| Man-of-the-Match Rahul Dravid celebrates India’s victory with Mohammed Kaif in the first ODI at Sabina Park in Kingston on Thursday. (Reuters)
Kingston: Chris Gayle, who has been bothered by a heart problem, scored his first ODI century in almost a year, but Rahul Dravid broke the West Indians’ hearts with a character-dripping 105 (at more than a run a ball) and gave Team India a 1-0 lead in the five-match Digicel series.
Thursday’s ODI finished around 4.30 am (IST) on Friday and the winning runs, from Mohammed Kaif, came on the penultimate ball. Close finishes hurt a lot more, but Brian Lara insisted that his team had the ammunition for the “next level.”
Four were needed in the last over, bowled by Dwayne Bravo. And, as the captain put it: “India needed every ounce of energy to get there (252)...”
While the West Indies’ winning streak ended (they’d just whipped Zimbabwe 5-0), India took their record of successive successful chases to 17. It’s mind-boggling, for not too long ago, many were happy to slap the label of chokers.
“We played good cricket... That’s as important as the win itself... Of course, it’s nice to start well, whether it’s in the West Indies or elsewhere,” MoM Dravid, whose last ODI hundred was 17 innings ago, told The Telegraph.
Interacting briefly over breakfast at the Hilton, the captain added: “Yes, it was nice to get a hundred... But, as I’ve been saying, the processes are more important than milestones... We didn’t start well, but pulled things back... Chasing 250-plus in a 45-over game is never easy...”
Incidentally, wife Vijeta and young Samit were at the Sabina Park, but they didn’t wait till Dravid reached his 12th hundred. They saw him get past fifty, though. Right through the innings, he was cheered (“bravo Dravid, bravo”) by the handsome contingent of Indian fans, mostly from across the US.
While Gayle was by far the biggest contributor (123 off 131 balls, his first ODI hundred on home turf) to the West Indies’ challenging total ' 251 for six ' Dravid found support from deputy Virender Sehwag and Kaif. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, greeted by a roar usually reserved for a centurion, authored a cameo.
The opening stand was worth 56 and, then, the Dravid-Kaif pair added 123 for the third-wicket. Kaif struggled, which is why the match went the distance. The patchy bit was understandable as his highest in nine ODIs this year had been no more than 15. He had let-offs, but the scorecard will show an unbeaten 66.
Earlier, Harbhajan Singh (9-2-33-1) and Ajit Agarkar (9-0-38-2) did a fantastic job after the first three bowlers had been belted. That only 29 were conceded in the last five overs made all the difference.
Coach Greg Chappell didn’t offer an excuse for the profligacy at the start, but did say that the players probably allowed themselves to expect “no cricket” after the early morning deluge. “May be the start (delayed by just an hour) took us by surprise... We need to learn from that,” he accepted.
Chappell lauded Dravid, saying the captain’s batting had gone to “another level.” He added: “It’s better to start with a win, but it wouldn’t have been terminal had we lost... The West Indies have forgotten to win... Had they been having little more success, they would have made it tougher... Having said that, the West Indies can always hurt and we aren’t underestimating them...”
Clearly, the hosts’ catching was poor and the ground fielding ought to have been far better.
Meanwhile, one learns Match Referee Chris Broad (Jeff Crowe is going to be there during the Test series alone) and the umpires (Steve Bucknor, Asad Rauf and Billy Doctrove) will “study” Marlon Samuels’ action.
The 25-year-old, who bowls off-spin, appeared to throw and the officials have taken note. According to a well-placed source, TV footage has already been sought.
Sreesanth may play today
Quick Sreesanth could play the second ODI, here itself, on Saturday. Rudra Pratap Singh, who got tonked all over the park, could have to sit out. However, it’s unlikely that Ramesh Powar is going to be fielded. His right ankle is no longer strapped, but the team management isn’t inclined to rush his comeback.
A “light session” had been planned at Sabina Park, on Friday morning, but that got shelved because of rain. There was, instead, a pool session at the Hilton.
The following are excerpts from what West Indies captain Brian Lara said after the first ODI:
“We could have done better on occasions, but I don’t agree that we can’t handle pressure... Even though we’re at the bottom of the rankings of the big nations (at No. 8), I don’t think our performance is getting the respect it should... That we only got 29 in the last five overs hurt us... One would expect around 40-45... Obviously, we’ve got to work more than India and we can take our game to the next level... The wicket dried up and, so, conditions for batting were better in the second session...”