| Ajit Agarkar lifts one en route to his 95 at Keenan Stadium in Jamshedpur Wednesday. (AFP)
Jamshedpur: Six off the last over and three off the last delivery. One couldnít have bargained for a more throbbing finish and, in that tight finale at the Keenan, the West Indies won by four wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the seven-match series.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, who clobbered the winning runs (off Ajit Agarkar) and ran all the way till the first floor dressing room, was adjudged Man of the Match. Well, nobody could have disagreed. Sarwan, who held nerve (like Javed Miandad in that 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final), remained unbeaten on 83 (90 balls, 6x4, 3x6).
Indeed, had Agarkar denied the visitors, he would surely have been the MoM. After all, he did pinch as hitter at No. 3 and, then, wasnít pedestrian in the other role either. But, given the stunning finish ó preceded by drama which would provide Bollywood scriptwriters an idea or two ó Sarwan had to upstage him.
ďWhat were my thoughts when I faced that last delivery' I canít recall... All I do know is that Iím very happy,Ē Sarwan told The Telegraph.
Speaking exclusively, Agarkar had this to say: ďI was hoping to fire a low full toss. As it turned out, it went knee high... As for my batting, I quite liked the experience. Now, Iíve got to be consistent.Ē
Though disappointed at not getting off to a winning launch, Sourav Ganguly wasnít devastated. ďWe had a good total and, frankly, felt it could be defended... Despite the defeat, Agarkarís fantastic performance is a huge positive. I hope he can continue this fine work and solve a problem area...Ē
Carl Hooper, the visiting captain, felt ďaround 20 runsĒ were gifted. Though delighted with his teamís batting, he did make the point about improving on the field and in the bowling department. Also, he would be happier winning the toss.
Set a big ask, the West Indies didnít have the most inspiring start. Chris Gayle departed first, while Wavell Hinds ó who went on to score 93 ó got an early benefit of doubt from Asoka de Silva. Itís another matter that, later, Hinds was dropped by debutant Jai Prakash Yadav (off his own bowling) and Mohammed Kaif.
Hinds and the dashing Marlon Samuels, who tore into Harbhajan Singh, added 86 for the second wicket and, after Samuels became Anil Kumbleís 300th victim, Hinds and the fluently-stroking Sarwan made merry: They added 87 in quick time to keep the West Indies ahead on the run-rate.
At the 25-over mark, for instance, the visitors were ahead by 18 runs (142 for two vis-a-vis 124 for two).
That Harbhajan was profligate, in both spells, made it easier for the visitors. At the same time, full marks to the Sarwans for being so clinically efficient. Hinds (106 balls, 12x4, 2x6) eventually did fall to Ashish Nehra, via a thick outside edge, paving the way for a rollicking stand between Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Soon it was time for drama to take centrestage and, in the mental battle which ensued, Sarwan made sure he didnít blink.
Earlier, the Indian essay revolved around three handsome partnerships: 98 for the third (121 deliveries) between Agarkar and V.V.S. Laxman, 75 for the fourth (61 balls) between Agarkar and Rahul Dravid and, then, that pulsating unbroken 47 for the seventh between Dravid and Kaif.
Itís the Dravid-Kaif association which helped India overcome the loss of Agarkar, Yuvraj Singh and Yadav in less than four overs (42nd to 46th) at a time when runs and not wickets needed to be added to the scoreboard.
While Dravid played a calculated knock (unbeaten 46 off 42 deliveries, 2x4), Kaif stole the show with neat improvisation and a quick eye. In fact, his unbeaten 31 came off only 18 balls (5x4). Such was Kaifís dominance that he creamed 15 off Vasbert Drakesí (and the inningsí) last over. Dravid got one.
The start, too, had been pretty whirlwind, with Virender Sehwag doing the bulk of the scoring. The West Indians, though, had done their homework: Sehwag, never most comfortable when his rib cage is the target, fell offering a return catch in Drakesí opening over itself.
Sourav, who fired a couple of trademark boundaries, departed trying to despatch Pedro Collins into the Tisco plant. Given that only 11 overs were completed, he should have stopped that rush of blood ó not uncommon when field restrictions are in place.
The captainís dismissal brought Agarkar and Laxman together. Attractive cricket wasnít at a premium as Agarkar, wishing to leave the most favourable impression, and Laxman, wanting to seal a one-day berth, made the most of an indifferent attack and an exceptionally fast outfield.
Agarkar, especially, was brilliant and took to his new role with the panache of a seasoned pinch-hitter. Be it driving straight or hitting through the line, lofting effortlessly or pulling with elan, Agarkar looked the master. Promoted to set the pace, he did just that.
As they say, one swallow obviously doesnít make a summer, but Agarkarís approach has already gladdened Sourav and coach John Wright. They have an exciting option to exercise.
The partnership ended when Laxman played the wrong line to be bowled by Mahendra Nagamootoo. The momentum didnít suffer as the Agarkar-Dravid pair continued to make the most of the middle overs. Their shot-selection was exemplary even as Hooper felt spin could make the difference.
Agarkar, easily the capacity turnoutís most favoured, was set for his maiden one-day hundred when one from Collins stopped and he offered a sitter to Gayle. Agarkarís career-best 95 came in 101 deliveries (11x4, 2x6).
Yuvraj and Yadav, who played across the line much too soon, followed in quick succession and it was left to Dravid and Kaif to post what then looked a winning total. Bottomline is, it wasnít.
Collins, who missed the Calcutta Test owing to a back strain, returned the best figures, while Drakes began promisingly. Actually, he could be the bowler to watch as the TVS Cup warms up.
Match No. 2 is in Nagpur Saturday.