| Mahendra Singh Dhoni en route to his 51 in Motera on Thursday. (Reuters)
Ahmedabad: Greg Chappell had probably thought that his hard talk on the eve of the game would have worked wonders on the players’ performance. Hardly did he envisage then that such a dressing down would do little to bring the focus back. Not many had these words engraved in their minds: I Am A Responsible Cricketer And Am Ready To Take The Initiative.
This West Indies side is on a roll. Very few gave them a chance when they came here mainly because of their unpredictability. Be it the presence of Clive Lloyd or the inspirational leader that Brian Lara has proved to be, the Caribbean transformation will not only make them favourites for this tournament, but also contenders for the World Cup next year.
The way they forced India into submission at the Motera in alien conditions showed their potential while displaying the hosts in poor light. It will require a heavy dose of adrenaline to beat Australia on Sunday and advance in the Champions Trophy. From the highs in Pakistan earlier this year, the slide has been fast.
The West Indies’ three-wicket victory ensured them a place in semi-finals. If they beat England — who are now out of contention for a last-four berth — on Saturday they top group A or they will have to wait for the Mohali clash to decide the issue. The near full-house was hoping against hope that a breakthrough would be achieved. The familiar West Indies collapse did take place to create a few scares in the minds of the Laras, but in the end it proved too little, too late.
Runako Morton’s dismissal in the 48th over led to a mini collapse — Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Smith falling in the space of nine balls. But as the Indians sensed the improbable, Marlon Samuels slashed over point to put the issue beyond doubt.
They returned deserving winners since, for most part of the game, the Indians were made to struggle. Except for the brief period of Caribbean madness at the close, the 224-run target was achieved with precision.
If Shivanrine Chanderpaul (51) laid the foundation, Sarwan (53) and Morton (45) made sure the momentum was not lost with a 92-run stand.
The Indians had tried to negate the disadvantage a spinner faces in gripping the soft ball by keeping out Ramesh Powar and including a fourth pacer in Rudra Pratap Singh. However, it was the spinners who proved most effective, with Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh giving Harbhajan Singh company. Thus the logic behind having a four-pronged pace attack will be debated in the coming days.
Frankly, none of the home bowlers looked intimidating. The fielding also showed signs of crumbling. Even the dependable Suresh Raina was guilty of misfields besides dropping Chris Gayle early in his innings. The failures with the bat seem to have dented his confidence.
If their much-hyped batting floundered yet again, with the exception of Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it was more due to lack of application than good bowling. And India being India, batsman after batsman departed after having got their eye in and played some delightful strokes.
The low bounce meant the wicket was not for the strokemakers. It suited players with a workmanlike attitude and the Indians have rarely showed the zeal and discipline to spend time in the middle.
If Dravid did the groundwork, Dhoni tried to ensure the visitors didn’t have it easy with an innings of controlled aggression. Having let the side down on a couple of previous occasions with flamboyant hitting, he was determined to make amends. The circumstances never prevailed upon him as he batted with poise. That his 51 came off 65 balls and included only one boundary besides two consecutive sixes off Gayle towards the close shows his approach.
If Lara tried to get a psychological edge over India, he certainly managed a little. India failed to show the positive attitude needed to gain the advantage at the initial stages. The players seemed to be cowed down by the pressure as they poked and prodded away. It looked as if they were creeping like snails unwillingly from over to over.
As Jerome Taylor threatened to create another flutter with his precision and extra yard of pace, Ian Bradshaw’s angular deliveries proved disturbing.
Sehwag’s run of poor scores continued, and then Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar fell in almost similar fashion to Bradshaw — dragging the ball onto their stumps while attempting cross-batted shots.
Dravid and Yuvraj tried to repair the damage with a 61-run partnership in 80 balls for the fourth wicket, but the lefthander holed out to Dwayne Bravo. Dhoni’s arrival saw Dravid make a hash of an easy single.
When Raina’s struggle finally came to an end, it was left to Dhoni to shoulder the responsibility. He did that coolly, and it was only during his blitzkrieg that the Windies looked flustered and bewildered