| Chris Gayle en route to his 103 in Nagpur Saturday. (Reuters)
Nagpur, Nov. 9: An SOS to Zaheer Khan! That could be the only way of lifting the sagging morale of this Indian bowling attack.
The Jamshedpur defeat can no longer be dismissed as fluke after the West Indies confirmed their emergence as a formidable force in this seven-match series at the VCA Stadium Saturday. So much so that Sourav Ganguly was forced to admit the bowlers need to shed their complacency.
Chris Gayle’s brilliant 103 provided the impetus to the visitors’ seven-wicket victory. But the Indian bowlers, except for Jawagal Srinath, were clueless on the docile track. No West Indian was tested and a flurry of half-volleys and short-pitched stuff only made their task easier. The Indian fielding ranged from the ordinary to lethargic.
Theories abounded about bowlers’ ineffectiveness — from non-stop cricket which has robbed them of ideas to the spinners finding it difficult to grip the Kookabura ball. But these will hardly help in countering the visitors’ 2-0 lead.
“It’s been very satisfying,” said Carl Hooper. “A total of 279 was a good score but gettable. It was important for the batsmen to carry on once they got in.”
The 47-over-a-side game — because of a delayed start and a stoppage due to missile-throwing from the stands — was reduced to a mismatch from the moment the visiting openers got going. Srinath’s dismissal of Wavell Hinds was a mere aberration in a relentless charge. Ashish Nehra and Ajit Agarkar were carted around with disdain. The spinners were not allowed to settle down either.
Gayle and Marlon Samuels launched into the attack with abandon. Gayle was severe on everyone with a variety of powerful backfoot drives and pulls. This was the Jamaican’s second one-day hundred.
Three mighty sixes — one off Agarkar and two off Kumble — was enough to dent the bowlers’ confidence. He put on a crucial 134 off 132 balls for the second wicket with Samuels.
Ramnaresh Sarwan neatly slipped into the role of ideal foil once Samuels pulled a long-hop from Virender Sehwag to short mid-wicket. Sarwan’s responsible innings along with Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s cameo effort capped their thoroughly professional approach.
The Indians’ personal milestones — Sourav crossing 8,000, Vangipurappu Laxman completing his 1,000 and then falling on 99, Rahul Dravid’s superbly crafted 51 off 40 balls — lost much of their sheen.
The loss of Sehwag and Agarkar early in the innings made no impact as Sourav launched into an early attack. The Indian skipper made full use of the conditions after being asked to take first strike.
Having become the third Indian — and ninth overall — to cross 8,000 runs with a fluent off-driven four off Corey Colleymore, Sourav grew in confidence. There was no false stroke in his 78 as he showed the urgency to keep the run-rate above the five-an-over mark.
Laxman remained content in merely rotating the strike early in his innings. The stand yielded 128 runs off 141 balls and laid foundation for a big total.
Nine minutes were lost at the start of the 17th over after a missile — Mike Procter later confirmed it was a stone — landed near Sarwan standing in the deep. Hooper called his boys to the middle of the ground as the Match Referee intervened. The players returned only after an assurance from Procter.
Sourav missed his 20th hundred but Laxman ensured that the momentum was not lost.
The century in Calcutta and the long time spent at the wicket — along with the guarantee of a place in the one-day side following the absence of Sachin Tendulkar — has done Laxman a world of good. Apart from his trademark wristy flicks and drives on the onside, he did not hesitate to pull and lift over the infield.
In the company of Dravid, he took the attack to the opposition after the departure of Sourav and Harbhajan, who was sent in at No. 4. Dravid kept rotating the strike with smart placements and the odd boundary. Once Dravid was run out going for a second run, Laxman paid the price for loss in concentration.
Laxman apologised to Dravid as the latter walked back to the pavilion and the guilt feeling could have been responsible for his exit in the same over.
A flurry of wickets followed, the batsmen themselves being responsible for their dismissal. A cool head could have helped India get a few more runs and, maybe, avoid defeat. But if a target in the region of 280 does not prove to be sufficient, even a few more runs may not have sufficed.