| Chris Gayle acknowledges cheers after reaching his century in Vadodara on Monday. Gayle scored 101, his third ton of the series. (Reuters)
Vadodara: It turned out to be a story of opportunities grabbed and opportunities lost. The West Indies excelled in the former to take a 3-2 lead in the TVS one-day series against India at the IPCL Stadium on Monday.
Carl Hooper won a toss both captains were craving for. Then, despite watching India race towards a massive total, made good use of his limited bowling resources to restrict Sourav Gangulyís team some 30 runs short of what had looked imminent earlyin the day.
The West Indies openers then got off to another flyer and pushed the run-rate so high that even after some middle-order hiccups, they cruised to victory with five wickets and more than an over to spare.
The result raises a serious question mark over the home teamís bowlersí ability to deliver since 290 from 48 overs appears to be a decent total to defend, on a wicket that had some turn.
However, Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle had ensured that their team had a more than solid platform to challenge the Indian total even before the spinners came in .
With the Indian seamers unable to extract any lateral movement from the surface just as their West Indian counterparts, Hinds emerged the principal aggressor. He unleashed such a flurry of boundaries and over-boundaries, with timely support from Gayle, that as many as 18 fours and four sixes came off the first 14 overs, the revised period of field restrictions.
The revision was caused by a delayed start owing to overnight dew that reduced the match to a 48-overs-per-side affair.
Hinds welcomed Lakshmipathy Balaji to international cricket with a punched four through extra-cover.
The experienced Jawagal Srinath fared no better as Hinds kept piercing the off-side cordon almost at will.
Gayle was quick to realise that his mate was on song and settled down to play second fiddle, but made full use of every chance to free his arms and ensure that runs kept coming from both ends. The assault was worth 120 from 14 overs, and virtually closed out all Indian comeback hopes.
India staged a recovery of sorts, by dismissing Hinds (80, 61 balls, 10x4, 5x6) and Marlon Samuels in quick succession. Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag slammed on the brakes and their cause was ably supported by some smart slip catching by Sourav. Murali Kartik played a big role in checking the flow of runs by maintaining a steady line and varying the length intelligently, but Gayle started shouldering the responsibility with exceptional composure.
Continuing his terrific run, Gayle brought up his third century of the series (101 off 107 balls, 10x4, 3x6) and took his series tally to 423.
The centurion played the seniorís in the crucial 83-run third-wicket stand with Ramnaresh Sarwan. He kept working the ball into the gaps and getting the big one whenever the asking-rate threatened to go beyond control.
India got a chance when Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Gayle fell in successive deliveries in the 39th over with the total reading 239. But Hooper found a pugnacious partner in Ricardo Powell and added 52 for the sixth wicket in just under eight overs to make sure that the advantage wasnít lost.
India could have made things tougher for the visitors had they been sharper in the field, but the odd catch was dropped and the run-out chances missed. V.V.S. Laxman was the sloppiest on show and though Sourav canít blame the defeat on the Hyderabadiís fielding blunders alone, Laxmanís batting certainly didnít help the team.
Sourav (53 in 51, 8x4) and Virender Sehwag (52 in 39, 8x4, 1x6) got off to a rousing start and the skipper was quick to see that his partner was in great touch. Sehwag got after the bowling after a couple of watchful overs and started spraying boundaries with a blend of bold and sublime strokeplay.
He was particularly effective off the legs, showing immaculate wrist work and didnít hesitate to free his shoulders when given width on the off. Just as it seemed that a big one was coming, the Delhi dasher casually lifted Corey Colleymore to be caught at mid-on ó not for the first time. With so many shots at his disposal, Sehwag will do himself a world of good if he avoids this particular one.
Laxman entered the stage at 88 for one in the 10th over and took time to settle down. Not only did it slow down the scoring, it also upset Souravís rhythm. On realising that too many balls had been wasted inside the 14 overs, Sourav tried to cut a low one from Hooper that was on line.
After having plundered 14 fours and a six inside ten overs, India had to wait till the 19th for their next boundary.
With Laxman failing to step up the scoring, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Sanjay Bangar tried to improvise and accelerate but with one end being stuck, they perished trying to keep things going from the other.
Hooper used himself with good effect even after going for three boundaries in his first over. The Windies captain also extracted 16 overs from Gayle and Samuels, which were not that expensive. Colleymore, playing in his first match of the series did a decent job by maintaining a wicket to wicket line and prevented the batsmen from going in for expansive shots.
The Indians lost the act here, by being unable to make good use of the overs put in by the irregulars and never really succeeded in stepping up the tempo despite having got off to a sound start.
It proved crucial in the end as India failed to reach a target that could have put the issue beyond the visitors. This is where the opportunity was lost along with the match.