India found two unlikely winners when the chips were down as they chased a huge West Indies total. Unlikely winners, because though they had scored runs at the Test level and one of them has got them in one-dayers too, they were not the players who the common man expected to see playing a major role for India in this format.
Their deeds really should not come as a surprise. They have shown in the past that when the flamboyant stars are struggling, it is their good old-fashioned but proven methods, a big heart and pure common sense that carries the day.
Who can forget the courage, determination and technique they displayed on an overcast day on a grassy wicket in the Headingley Test, laying the strongest possible foundation for the strokeplayers to come and play their shots as the pitch eased up. Yes, it was the partnership between Sanjay Bangar and Rahul Dravid that made it possible there and this time too it was their cool, collected heads that brought India an improbable victory.
They also played some unorthodox shots. Shots that will bring a shake of the head and perhaps a shrug of the shoulders from some, if they see them on the highlights for they believe in the classical shots and not those that the circumstances made them play. The crowd loved it and their teammates in the dressing room had expressions that were worth seeing, for they had their mouth agape more in admiration than amazement and the smiles told it all.
For Dravid to have played the kind of innings he did and that too after keeping wickets in the West Indian innings speaks volumes of his fitness and commitment. Bangar has been a late entrant to international cricket where players with just the Under-19 competitions under their belt are fast-forwarded into the international arena, mostly with disastrous results.
These same players after a bit more experience at the first class level come back as better players. Bangar proves that age is no criteria if the heart and the head is the same size and in the right place. More than anything else their performances also prove that unless one is an outstanding batsman and a wicket taking bowler like McGrath or Warne there is limited use for the single skill player in limited overs cricket. Unless that is realised sooner than later there may well be disappointment in South Africa next year.
India continues to indulge bowlers who canít get wickets, canít stop runs, canít field and canít bat. Against a weak bowling side like the West Indies they are getting away because the batsmen are making up for them. However, against sides like Australia and South Africa it may prove disastrous. Spin is still our strength as Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik proved.
Besides their bowling they are both top fielders as well as useful hitters down the order. Harbhajanís figures of ten overs for 30 runs while the other bowlers were being massacred shows that even in this format a top bowler will be able to hold his own more often than not. When you have a situation in just about every match where a main bowler cannot complete his quota of overs because he is too expensive then surely it is time to look for someone else and quickly too, for February is not too far away.
Even though the ICC may have asked for the final teams to be announced by the end of the year each Board must reserve the right to include or drop some after that date. After all it is the World Cup and every team must have its best team barring injuries of course.
Like the Indians, the West Indians too have a problem with their bowling and twice in a row they have been taken apart by the Indians. Their batting, though, has flowered since the Calcutta Test and that there is no place for Ricardo Powell in their eleven, indicates the batting strength they have with Gayle and Sarwan in particularly good touch.
The series is now level and with both sides preferring to chase rather than defend totals, the toss has become crucial to get the choice to field rather than bat on these flat pitches.