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West Indies clinch ODI series

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: May 27, 2006 03:48 IST
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Captain Brian Lara's sparkling half-century helped the West Indies to a series-clinching victory in the fourth one-day international against India in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Friday.

The West Indies, who restricted India to 217 for 7, won by six wickets, with six overs to spare, to take a winning 3-1 lead in the five-match series.

Lara scored 69 off 97 balls, with eight boundaries and a six, as the West Indies posted 218 for 4 in 44 overs.

Dwayne Bravo, who scored a career-best 61 not out, added 91 runs for the fourth wicket with Lara after the West Indies had slipped to 91 for three in the 23rd over.

West Indies innings

Bravo's bowling won the Windies one game from an improbable position and, this morning, helped nail India's batting order to the mast; here, he was back to doing it this time with the bat.

A casual dance down the track to the first ball of the 42nd over, and Bravo was powering the ball high over Ramesh Powar's head and onto the sightscreen; a sweep for two was followed by a blazing back foot punch for four. The power hitting got Bravo to his first ODI century; it also knocked 12 more off the target, and got the team to within sniffing distance of the finish line.

Wavell Hinds, playing his first hand of the tour and seemingly as determined as Bravo to make sure this game didn't go down to the wire, joined the party with fours through the covers in successive Agarkar overs.

With nothing left to lose, Dravid gave Suresh Raina a bowl - and from the turn and bounce he got, you couldn't help wondering why he never gets to bowl in earnest, at least for the odd two, three overs? Surely the point of building an ODI team is to bring together a lot of players who can contribute in more ways than one - the point of having them, then not using them, defeats me.

A slog sweep by Bravo over midwicket too the West Indies home in the last ball of the 44th; the home team had sealed a six wicket win and with it, the series (and for my money, Bravo had done enough to walk away with the man of the match award).

Now for the brickbats - the team has had a good long run; during this time, you've had one section of fans waiting for a stumble, for defeat (a strange way, it has always seemed to me, to follow a sport) just so as to be able to say `I told you so!'.

Didn't happen against Sri Lanka, then the number two team in the world; not against Pakistan; not against South Africa; not against England - but finally the moment is here to bring out the knives.

Presumably, too, the fans following the fortunes of the team, as opposed to personalities, will have reason for heartburn. The team had just gotten everyone used to consistently good performances - and then, in this series, produced a consistently bad run.

From the first game, to this fourth, there hasn't been a moment when the team looked in command either in the field or with the bat - and now it is an uphill fight to recover lost ground, to regain lost momentum.

PostScript: Over and out for now, there is still a paper here that needs to get to press. Be back Sunday, till then adios

Windies 49/2 in 10 overs

Sometimes, decisions captains make leave you slack-jawed in wonder.

Given a small total, given the nature of the wicket, given the lessons hopefully learnt when the West Indies quicks bowled disciplined lines and lengths and forced him to play out 31 dot balls out of 38 faced, you would have thought Rahul Dravid would have backed discipline, early on, as his best option.

Surprisingly, Ajit Agarkar - by far the most disciplined of the Indian seamers on this tour thus far - rode the boundary line, while Sreesanth joined Irfan Pathan with the new ball.

Both opening bowlers bowled a fair share of wicket-taking deliveries - but equally, strayed off course often enough to permit the odd hit, and on a small chase, a four costs twice as much as if you were defending 300-plus.

In the first over, Gayle got one too full and just wide enough of off to throw both hands into a drive that blazed the ball through extra cover; off the first ball of the second over, from Sreesanth, Samuels lashed at a ball outside his off stump and got the edge past second slip to the fence for four; in his third over Pathan again bowled one too full and too wide of off, allowing Gayle hitting room through the covers.

In between these shots - and a remarkable one handed swing Gayle played at Sreesanth in the fourth over, that powered the ball high over the midwicket fence - neither batsman looked comfortable, with the ball swinging around and keeping a trifle low on occasion; an inner edge from Gayle that took the ball dangerously close to the stumps indicated the pitch was slow enough to defeat strokeplay.

The 5th over almost turned into a disaster - Pathan bowled one down leg and Samuels got enough wood on it to fine the fence at fine leg. The next two deliveries were both wide down the leg side, and on both occasions, Pathan was lucky the batsman didn't get bat to ball. He then pulled one back, bending a ball in off line of middle to get Samuels in a tangle and hit him on the pad - umpire Simon Taufel upheld the shout, though it did look like the ball struck front pad in front of leg stump, inviting some doubt (9/12; Windies 28/1).

Pathan nearly did for Sarwan in identical fashion next ball, but this time the length was shorter, the ball was bouncing more, and though the strike was identical in line, Taufel this time gave it for the batsman and quite right too.

Sreesanth bowled a nice tight 6th over - only for Pathan to give it up again, with Gayle and Sarwan book-ending the second, and last, ball of the over with fours. 10 runs came in the over - read that against the fact that the only over of the Indian innings that produced 10 runs was the 50th.

Sreesanth, in the 8th, allowed his aggressive instincts to get the better of him, and with Ramesh Powar losing the plot on a line dive, found himself going for two fours in the over, the shots punctuating several swing-and-miss attempts.

The card at the end of the 8th over pretty much defined India's problems - on a track where batsmen struggled to score off anything pitched on the stumps, the West Indies had knocked 49 off the target; of those runs, 32 had come off 8 boundaries and one six. And Gayle, dangerous if not taken out early, had been allowed to get away; it didn't matter that at least three of his hits were miscues - he was enabled to swing free and hard, his power did the rest, and in the process, big bites were taken out of a small target.

With the horse bolting over the horizon, Dravid finally took Pathan out (4-0-27-1) and brought Agarkar on; the bowler responded with his third delivery, one that kicked off just short of length, forcing Sarwan into the miscued pull to Sehwag at mid on (6/9; 49/2). To rub the message in a bit, Agarkar's first over was not only successful, it was a controlled maiden, closed out with three successive dot balls at Lara. Sreesanth closed out this period with a maiden to Gayle in the 10th.

There is probably some explanation, some thought, why the bowling was switched around - but damned if I can think what it is.

Windies 80/2 in 20 overs

The second ball of the 12th over scooted through at ankle height (the over produced just one run - a scampered single, after Gayle got the toe of his bat to another ball that scooted through inches off the ground).

The result of this series could have been decided by then - but you already find yourself wondering what kind of score will be par for the final game, on Sunday, on this same pitch. 100? Less?

I am frankly no fan of batting tracks that let teams hit 400+ in each innings; an even contest between bat and ball is way more fun. But here, the contest is not really between bat and ball, it is between humans and a pitch unfit for human consumption (and this is by no means prompted by the state of the match, or the distinct possibility that India will lose - a wicket where inside the first 20 overs of the chasing innings deliveries run along the ground is not the optimum for any team).

Agarkar (3-1-6-1) and Sreesanth kept things tight - Gayle, who had rocketed to 30 off 30, managed just two more off 11 deliveries when drinks were called after 14, while Lara took 17 deliveries to nudge his way to 5.

Just ahead of the break, Pathan took over from Sreesanth (again, a rather strange move; the more obvious one would have been to bring on Harbhajan, who has earlier in this series made Lara look like a novice) and got the first ball of his comeback over, too full and on leg, chipped by Lara over midwicket for a four.

It clearly has not been the left-arm seamer's best day, and it comes on the back of another bad day in the third game (again, no intent to dump on him; Pathan has produced inspired performances that have helped the side to wins, before, but he is clearly off color here and it shows).

To get back, just for a moment, to the pitch - great bowling against a batting great like Lara, keeping him tied down, would have been a sight for the gods; but to see him bend double to dig deliveries out of the pitch does the game, nor the spectators, any favors.

After just one over, Pathan was switched off and Harbhajan Singh came on; the offie began with a controlled maiden to Lara. The first ball of the 17th over underlined another aspect of the game the team doesn't appear to have nailed down yet - for the second time in his innings, Gayle edged one from Agarkar and Dhoni found himself a pace and a half too deep to make a catch of it.

The wicket is clearly slow and low - moving up a pace or three seemed indicated right from ball one, yet it is a small adjustment the keeper and slip(s) fail to make, more often than not - and these little things cost big time.

This 10-over phase produced just 31 runs; there were only two fours hit despite the presence in the middle of Brian Lara on his home ground, and a well set Chris Gayle. But though that constitutes a recovery by the bowling side, it comes too late to adequately compensate for the 'temporary loss of reason' that characterized the start of this defense.

Windies 124/3 in 30 overs

His first 30 runs had come off 30 deliveries; but once Agarkar came on, and Sreesanth tightened up, and Harbhajan and Ramesh Powar took over, Chris Gayle found runs impossible to buy - it took the big-hitting opener 40 deliveries to add a further 16.

The frustration was building - and Ramesh Powar capitalized on it with an intelligent piece of bowling. Seeing the batsman repeatedly trying to force off the front foot, the offie went around the wicket with a slip in place, looking for the edged drive. In the event, Gayle launched at a flighted delivery, but failed to read the pitch of the ball right, and ended up hitting it miles high for a straightforward catch to Agarkar on the long off fence (46/70; Windies 91/3).

Dwayne Bravo got promoted in the order, whether to break up the sequence of left handers struggling against off spinners, or to get a few big hits in and reduce the target, is unclear.

With his two spinners, in tandem, buttoning things down, Dravid took the third power play in the 24th over. Run-making remained tough, with the two spinners bowling well in tandem and the ball not coming on for free-flowing stroke play. The West Indies 100 came up in the 26th over, which was exactly when India had got to that mark in its innings.

The advantage for the batting side lies in knowing what the total is, and having the luxury of knowing that once they see off Harbhajan Singh, they should be able to begin chipping the runs away with greater frequency.

A measure of the difficulty in batting is indicated by this - Chris Gayle had off the first ball of the 15th over struck Agarkar for a four; the Windies had to wait till a little Lara shimmy, to Ramesh Powar going around the wicket and hitting over cover point off the first ball of the 27th over, to register the next boundary.

The master bat followed up with another dance, this time with Powar over the wicket, that shut down the angle on the off spinner and smashed the drive through cover - the first really authentic Lara shot he had played in an innings that at that point had spanned 57 deliveries.

At the 30 over mark, Windies are 124/3 (India 119/3 at that point). And the problem opening up for Dravid is that Harbhajan Singh has just two more overs to go. Dravid needs to use Yuvraj and/or Sehwag now, or he miht end up in the same situation as the last game, needing overs from his part timers at the point of peak pressure.

For now the Windies, knowing they merely need to bat out the remaining 20 overs, have a lock on the game.

Windies 188/4 in 40 overs

The noticeable difference between the two sides - apart from an extremely disciplined bowling performance in the early part of the Indian innings, against the exact opposite by India at the same stage of the West Indies innings - has been the fielding.

The Windies fielders were outstanding, with Lara himself leading the way, diving around like a man half his age, stopping certain fours and hunting down balls hit into the outfield, while the likes of Samuels, Sarwan, Gayle and Bravo backed him to the limit and beyond.

Against that, the Indians were yet again untidy. While Kaif, Yuvraj and Raina kept their high standards up, the likes of Powar and Sehwag and even the normally safe Sreesanth fumbled too often; this, allied to their failure to attack the ball, eased just enough pressure off the Windies batsmen and in a small chase of this kind, every little bit helps.

A bigger problem for the Indians was the gradual return to form of Brian Lara. Despite struggling early on and looking remarkably mortal especially against Agarkar and Harbhajan, Lara gritted it out, hanging on grimly and as the feet began moving better and the timing returned, revealed glimpses of his best touch.

There was a delectable late cut in Yuvraj Singh's first over, the 32nd of the innings; in the next over, he twinkle-toed down the track to mess with Powar's line and played a sublime whip against the turn through midwicket. To his credit, in between those shots he showed the willingness to hang in there, push and prod and poke and do whatever it took to keep the bowling out and the chase on track.

Clearly, the Windies captain is hungry for success in his third coming; clearly, he is willing to do whatever it takes - even if it takes looking like a less than ordinary batsman - to get there.

Those two fours, which powered two seven-run overs, tilted the scales for the West Indies. At the 30 over mark, there was little separating the two teams. Five overs later, there was daylight - India had made 136/4 in 35; the Windies by contrast had gotten to 151/3, and were cruising.

Inadvertently, by the nature of his play he also underscored the difference between India's two spinners. Against Powar, the classical off spinner without an arsenal of hidden weapons, he was willing to back his feet and his eye, and took 21 off 19 deliveries faced; against the more wily, less predictable Harbhajan, he stayed back, defending grimly, and managed just 7 off 25 balls faced.

And then, he seemed to decide that enough was enough, that his home town needed a show. When Harbhajan was brought back, to the second ball of the 36th, the batsman came down the track, realized he had been deceived in flight, checked, and whipped the ball against the turn over midwicket to find the fence.

At the end of that over, Lara's 53 off 84 balls contained 6 fours - but they also contained 58 dot balls, each a measure of the struggle he soldiered through.

The next over was Harbhajan's last; his analysis at that point was 9-1-28-0, and Lara seemingly decided to give him a send off. To the third ball, on line of leg looking to turn in, Lara danced down, got under it, and elevated it over the midwicket fielder to find the fence. The next ball was tossed up and closer to the middle stump line; Lara adjusted, and whipped through square leg for another four.

Then, the coup de grace - to a flighted delivery outside off, Lara again came dancing down, shimmying inside the line of the delivery just enough to clear his arms, and lofted it with effortless ease over the long on fence for four, leaving Harbhajan looking at the ruin of what till then had been a remarkably controlled spell of spin bowling.

Just when it looked like he would take the team home, Powar returned, tossed one up on middle stump. The batsman danced down looking to clear the field, but this time his footwork failed him, he wasn't to the pitch when he went through with the shot and managed only to get the leading edge to deep mid off (69/97 deliveries; Windies 182/4).

At 188/4 at the end of 40, needing 30 off 60, the Windies have a lock on the game. And India's run, which has spanned 21 wins in 29 games during the 2005-06 season beginning with the tri-series in Zimbabwe, is on the verge of running aground.

And perhaps that is a good thing, too -- a sequence of wins against the likes of England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, a drawn series against South Africa; it has all contributed to a feeling of near infallibility.

A wake up call, the smell of pure coffee -- it could be what the team needs, here, to gets its collective head out of the clouds and its feet on the ground again.


India innings: 30/2 in 10 overs

Brian Lara, winning his first toss of the series, says `Both teams look comfortable chasing, so I thought we would have a go at bowling first'. Translation - let's see how well India handles the pressure of batting first'?

It is early days, but thus far, the Indian response to the challenge has been distinctly underwhelming, in the face of a sustained spell of accurate pace and swing from Fidel Edwards and Ian Bradshaw.

On a pitch where the ball didn't really seem to bounce or hurry up to any noticeable degree, both bowlers hit the very full length, and used intelligent changes of line allied to late swing and occasional cut to ask questions - and found the Indian batsmen didn't have as many answers as they would have liked.

Virender Sehwag in this innings moved noticeably into his shots, as opposed to the static feet that has characterized his play during the prolonged slump. He got going with a trademark slash to a ball bouncing outside off, hitting it up and over the slips to the third man fence. A stride forward, to drive through the line of an Ian Bradshaw inswinger and smear the ball past the bowler to the fence, indicated a batsman more confident of himself.

It didn't do him much good, though - off the fourth ball of the same Bradshaw over, Sehwag again stepped out into a drive on the up but this time, late swing got the toe of the bat and the shot picked out the tall Chris Gayle at a close in extra cover; the fielder timed a little hop to perfection and held it high overhead to make a difficult catch look ridiculously simple (13/1; RD 11/11).

At the other end, Rahul Dravid had his own problems. The Windies quicks appear to have worked out that he has a tendency, especially early in an innings, to fall away a bit to off while trying to work the ball with the shut bat face out on the on. Both Edwards and Bradshaw homed in on the full length and on the pads, and time and again, the batsman was in trouble, either getting the pad to deliveries marginally missing the stumps, or getting the leading edge and being lucky to see the ball go along the ground.

Suresh Raina yet again walked out at number three, and like Dravid started in shaky fashion. He was showing signs of settling down - the feet moving better, the body well behind the line of the ball, but to the first ball of the 10th over, he fell - ironically, in the same fashion as Irfan Pathan, the man he replaced at number three.

The ball from Bradshaw was a touch on the short side, leaving the left hander; Raina slashed at it looking to clear point; the extra lift the bowler got putting his shoulder into the delivery forced the mishit with Raina only managing to get the top edge for Ramnaresh Sarwan to hold a stinger as the ball came at him face high and at pace (28/2; SR 7/22).

Fidel Edwards did his captain proud, with a first spell of 4-1-5-0 that challenged the batsmen and gave nothing away. The line was exemplary; the pace up around the 140+ mark, and the bowler got late swing in the early morning conditions. Lara however opted to switch him out, and bring Corey Colleymore, coming into the side in place of the underwhelming Jerome Taylor, into the attack - likely, so the lead bowler could get a breather, then come back and go flat out again.

At the ten over mark, India are well on the back foot, with Dravid and Yuvraj Singh having a consolidation job on hand. Lara's ploy of putting the opposition in has worked, for now - the two wickets down, the lack of runs on the board, means he can continue attacking, both with his power plays and his field placings, and keep the pressure on India.

India 69/3 in 20 overs

Each of the four West Indies seamers have different styles, different skill sets - yet, they all appear, these past two, three games, to be operating within a determined game plan.

As far as you can judge by the way the games have gone, this consists of keeping the ball on the stumps, just short enough to inhibit driving but not so short the batsman can go back and play the horizontal bat shots.

By and large, all four quicks on view have stuck to this plan; they use those lines and lengths to tie the batsmen down, and just occasionally swing one wide, or drop one short, or bowl one fuller, to try and force the mistake. All this has been backed up by high quality fielding and a captain willing to set his men right up, denying singles.

Thus far, the plan has worked to near perfection. Dravid has been kept from doing any damage; Sehwag - who at the start of his innings had mishit a drive on the rise, was given another one in that slot and got out; Raina was kept tied down with the fuller length, then given the short one to slash at and Yuvraj, for all his fluency at the crease from the outset, has been kept quiet by the impeccable lines being bowled to him.

A rate of 3 an over at the end of 15 was indicative of the kind of pressure maintained on the batsmen - and it worked, with Colleymore in the 16th over again bowling the sucker ball after two on the stumps. The third ball of the over was wider of off and going away; Dravid was lured into trying for runs, pushed at it with zero foot movement looking to run it down to third man, and managed only to chop it for Sarwan at slip to dive and hold a beauty right off the top of the grass (47/3; RD 15/38).

A rate of 3 an over, with two back in the hut, at the 15 over mark looks like unalloyed bad news. But it needs to be read in context of a pitch that, on the evidence thus far, is clearly not conducive to hitting through the line. The ball hasn't been coming on, the batsmen appear just a touch suspicious about the bounce - it is not, by any yardstick, your typical one day belter.

That in turn indicates that the batting side needs to revise its game plan a touch. Aiming for scores in the 270-or-above vicinity could prove folly; on this wicket (given decent bowling and fielding, mind), 250 is a challenging total. To get there, though, Yuvraj and Mohammad Kaif, who kicked off by rocking back to belt Colleymore through point for four, will need to look at batting through till at least the 35 over mark, before bringing the likes of MS Dhoni and Irfan Pathan into play.

A lot rests on Yuvraj, in inspirational form in recent times. The left hander has been batting well within himself, eschewing risk and concentrating, especially after the arrival of Kaif, on the well run singles. That he is in very good touch was indicated by a supreme on drive, hit clean the moment a length delivery from Colleymore strayed marginally onto middle and leg. The real question is, has his back recovered enough to stand the strain of a long innings with a lot of hard running punctuating it?

Interestingly, Kaif has been looking good from the moment he got to the crease. The footwork is positive, the bat has been coming down straight, and he has been able to work the ball into gaps for the quick singles. The only aberrant moment was in the 19th over, when he misjudged bounce on a shorter ball from Bradshaw, and hit a on the rise drive just short of the cover fielder.

Against the 45 runs India made in the first 15 overs, the Kaif-Yuvraj pairing has managed 24 in the last five overs, despite a maiden by Colleymore to Yuvraj in the 20th.

For Lara, the power plays are done with; his seamers have gotten breakthroughs without giving the store away, and he now has the opportunity to squeeze through some tight overs from the part-timers before the innings boils over at the business end.

India 119/3 in 30 overs

Almost imperceptibly, India got back into the game during this phase. It began with the 21st over, and two fluent fours by Yuvraj Singh, off the pads to fine leg followed by a very late cut to third man.

With the power plays done, Brian Lara promptly switched on his lesser bowling lights, bringing on Chris Gayle in the 22nd over and Marlon Samuels in the 23rd. While Samuels, with his quick arm action and flat, fast trajectory continued to be difficult to get away, both batsmen went after Gayle, knocking off 14 in the left arm spinner's first two overs and forcing Lara to take him out of the attack and bring Fidel Edwards back on to exert some control.

In the process, Edwards is using up some overs that could be needed at the death, and that could have put the Windies under the hammer a bit -- but the plus for Lara here has been that Jerome Taylor, the weak link in the attack in the previous games, is sitting this one out - his replacement, Corey Colleymore, more than delivered with a first spell of 6-2-24-1 (Lara, again, was quick to switch the bowler's end, after Colleymore indicated he wasn't happy with the landing zone of his right foot on the delivery stride).

Kaif and Yuvraj played this phase to perfection - the singles kept coming, several were converted into twos and the slightest error in line and length was punished, as witness a superb straight drive in Samuels' first over when the bowler pitched too full, and a flowing extra cover drive in the bowler's third, when the ball went just wide enough to afford room (Samuels going for 15 in 3 forced Lara to switch him out as well, and try if Dwayne Smith could get in some tight ones with his gentle seam up).

The return of Edwards saw Yuvraj throttle back, giving the bowler due respect for the immaculate lines he bowled at brisk pace.

Though the left hander has been the more authoritative, Kaif has more than done his bit. `You will see a different Kaif', he recently told Cricinfo recently, and I must confess to being one of the skeptics.

Thus far, he has walked that talk. The right hander has remained controlled throughout his innings; has managed to pick out the gaps and as a result avoid being tied down; more often than not has pushed the envelope on the running, taking the danger end and converting ones into twos, and ensuring that the pressure is not entirely on his partner.

The 50 of the fourth-wicket partnership came off 56; Yuvraj contributed 24/29; Kaif 20/27. The ten over phase has produced 50 without loss of a wicket; the run rate is inching towards the 4 an over mark and the beginnings of a platform are in place; if these two can keep the rate going for another 7, 8 overs, it will give India two or three big wickets in hand to launch a major push at the death.

India 160/4 in 40 overs

For the second time in two outings, Yuvraj Singh made just one error in judgment in course of a calibrated knock - and it cost him.

To the 5th ball of the 32nd over, Yuvraj got one angling across him and playing the line, looked to glide it down to third man. The ball swung back in just a touch to turn the intended glide into a firmer push, deflecting the ball off the face of the bat to Baugh behind the stumps.

Edwards had probed away all day with Scrooge-like parsimony, the wicket came as overdue reward, ending a controlled knock of 52/78 by the southpaw that helped dragged his team back into a game they seemed in danger of abdicating (India 127/4).

The only positive you could find about the dismissal is that it gave the off color Mahendra Singh Dhoni a bit of time to settle in and find the range and timing on his shots.

Lara's bowling changes meanwhile continued to be spot on. As soon as Yuvraj left, he brought Samuels back on for Smith, using the breathing space provided by the breakup of the partnership (80 at 4.89) to squeeze through a few more irregular overs. The bowler responded with a maiden to Dhoni in the 33rd, and the squeeze was back on India.

At the other end, he took Edwards (8-1-19-1) off after the quick's successful over, saving a couple for the death, and brought Bravo back on; then replaced Bravo with Gayle, taking the pace off the ball at both ends and cramping Dhoni in particular, who likes the ball coming on to him for his shots.

With Dhoni struggling for touch on a wicket where the ball just would not come on to him, the pressure was on Kaif to keep things ticking over. He found the fence with a fine leg glance off Bravo in the 36th over and Dhoni managed an educated edge down to third man off Samuels in the 39th, but outside of that the runs came in random singles during a ten over phase that produced just 41 runs, and India heading into the slog finds itself a long way short of the 240-250 it needs to mount a good defense.

India 217/7 in 50

There is little or no pace in this pitch, and Lara took even that little bit off, teaming Samuels and Gayle for the early part of the slog.

Both bowlers kept it very full, and very straight, cramping the batsmen for room and making run scoring almost impossible - the 41st over, by Samuels, produced five straight dot balls to Dhoni; the 42nd by Gayle contained just three singles; the 43rd; Samuels again, saw Kaif get a brace to get to his 50 (73 balls) and, one delivery later, shape for a drive that he played too early; the leading edge went back to the bowler who put down a sitter.

The first shot in real anger came only in the 44th, when Dhoni got his feet out of the way and clubbed Gayle, from line of off and middle, to the wide midwicket fence for his first genuine four. Samuels bowled out his quota in the 45th, again reducing Dhoni to near impotence with his changes of pace and immaculate line (one delivery in this over was clocked at 124.4 kmph, another just under the 100 mark). Kaif spoilt Samuels' over somewhat with a sweep off the final ball, but Samuels with just five in that over and 42 in his allotted ten had done the job again for his team.

The 50 run partnership, off 79 deliveries, that came up in the 45th over indicated how hard the two batsmen found it - Kaif's contribution was 27 off 34, none too good at the business end of the innings but very impressive in comparison with Dhoni's 23 off 45 at that stage.

Colleymore was brought back, replacing Gayle, in the 46th over. If his layoff has produced any rust, it didn't show - the bowler's control of line and length remained immaculate. Without being as pacy as his colleagues, Colleymore bowled four of six on yorker length - an amazing display that kept things tight, permitting just a single a ball.

Dwayne Bravo, Lara's go-to man at the death, got the ball in the 47th - and delivered, as the bowler produced yet another of his trademark change-downs in pace. Kaif, looking for the heave-ho, was an hour too early into his shot, and watched the ball drift gently past his flailing bat onto the stumps.

It was, all things considered, a good controlled knock by Kaif (63/83); the relatively slow rate of scoring explained in part by the match situation and by the controlled bowling, and excellent fielding, of the West Indians.

Dhoni brought the 47th over to an end by picking yet another Bravo slower ball to perfection, waiting a lifetime for it and almost taking the bowler's head off with a thump down the ground to find the fence.

Colleymore in the 48th continued with his yorker-length deliveries; it really is quite amazing to see a bowler with such impeccable control as to be able to bowl that delivery, time and again, bang on target. Five singles off five deliveries, and then Dhoni stepped into a delivery a touch outside off and thrashed it down the straight field again, beating long off to the fence.

Bravo returned for the 49th, and Pathan greeted the first ball - the slower one, almost predictably - by taking it on the full and clubbing it to the midwicket fence. The next ball, again slower (if a bowler bowls only slower deliveries, doesn't the word `slower' become moot?) and outside off; Pathan got cute with it, going across his stumps looking to paddle to fine leg, but managing only to pick out the fielder posted in the short position there (8/7 Pathan; India 206/6).

Three successive dot balls at Agarkar later, Bravo picked up his second for the over - with the slowest ball yet, one that looped and turned and glided gently past Agarkar's flailing bat onto the leg stump (Agarkar 0/4; India 206/7).

Colleymore for the 50th, and Dhoni finally connected - a paddle to the attempted yorker off the first ball; a quick backward shuffle to clear room and a swat over point to the second; incredibly, an attempted sweep off the quick bowler that failed to connect off the third; an effective yorker that keeps Dhoni quiet in the 4th; a scampered brace in the 5th; and just a leg bye off the final delivery of the innings, getting India to 217/7; the slog phase having produced just 57 for the loss of three wickets.

It is not the sort of total you want batting first in a do-or-die game - but that is what the board says you have. On a slow pitch, Harbhajan, Powar, Yuvraj and even Sehwag have the means to make the chase edgy for the Windies - but to get there, the opening bowlers will need to bowl an inspirational opening spell, at the only point when conditions for batting will be decent.

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Prem Panicker

India Tour South Africa 2023-24

India Tour South Africa 2023-24