| Rahul Dravid en route to his matchwinning 52 in Dambulla on Sunday. (AFP)
Dambulla: The West Indies’ team list made for unusual reading. But with a sponsorship row and more, these are bizarre times for cricket in the Caribbean.
However, there wasn’t anything unusual about the IndianOil Cup match No. 2: India beat the West Indies by six wickets (and 14 overs in hand) to confirm that the three-nation meet is actually a two-team competition.
Nobody expected the Shivnarine Chanderpaul-led side to push the Indians and nobody was surprised. Despite dropped catches, the West Indies managed 178 and didn’t last the 50 overs.
The one-time tormentors have now lost ten (not nine) ODIs in succession, the sequence beginning in Perth earlier this year.
The mediocre opposition notwithstanding, it was essential for India to win big ' more so as Saturday’s season-launcher was disappointing. Well, we even got the bonus point.
There are bound to be more memorable occasions, but Greg Chappell will still remember his first win as coach with some emotion... “I’ve got off the mark... That’s the nice part, but it’s just the first step in a long march,” he told The Telegraph, grinning.
It was also a first for Dravid ' win No. 1 holding independent charge. He led from the front, with a flawless exhibition on a dual-paced wicket, to pocket another MoM award.
For the statistically inclined, Dravid has got past fifty in each of his four innings at the Rangiri International Stadium. He had 104 and 82 in last year’s Asia Cup; 54 and an unbeaten 52 over the two days this time.
“I’m feeling good... I needed a knock like this one... Also, at 82 for three, we were under some pressure... I’ve been pretty relaxed (about the captaincy)... Our quicks and Harbhajan (Singh) have made it easier,” Dravid remarked.
Flexibility in the batting order is something both the captain and coach are working on. If V.V.S. Laxman’s late non-availability pushed Mahendra Singh Dhoni up the order on Saturday, Mohammed Kaif opened for the first time on Sunday.
“Kaif put his hand up for a difficult job... Indeed, we’re looking at giving more responsibility to the younger players,” Dravid pointed out. Dhoni, though, is unlikely to open one more time.
In keeping with the “more responsibility” bit, Suresh Raina was promoted to No. 3. He was let off twice, but did have his moments while compiling 35. That the teenager is a terrific fielder ' one saw yet another run out ' is excellent news.
Raina’s impact, however, may queer the pitch for one of the more experienced when everybody is available for selection. Dravid and Chappell have a problem on their hands.
In any case, Dravid admitted keeping Anil Kumble on the bench was a “most difficult decision.” He added: “Anil isn’t only a great cricketer, but a champion human being... It has not been easy for any of us, but he understands...”
Sourav Ganguly would say much the same thing when caught in the Kumble/Harbhajan dilemma.
India’s next match, against Sri Lanka, is on Wednesday and Dravid indicated Sourav could open: “We do know he has a fantastic record as opener and we’re trying to get the combination (at the very top of the order) right...”
A surprise, though, just can’t be ruled out.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan hero Sanath Jayasuriya’s continuation (or otherwise) in the tournament is going to be known on Monday once the report of his right shoulder scan is available.
Jayasuriya dislocated the shoulder while fielding on Saturday. It was put back in place by the Melbourne-based Dr David Young (who happened to be passing through), but a scan-driven trip to Colombo still became necessary.
The champion batsman suffered a similar injury in Morocco three years ago. It forced a lay-off.