| MoM Ramnaresh Sarwan celebrates after completing his century in Basseterre on Tuesday
Basseterre (St Kitts): Trinidadian legend Brian Lara has raised the pitch for the last two ODIs of the ongoing Digicel series, to be played on home turf Port-of-Spain, by declaring those matches will “probably” be his last at a venue he is so emotional about.
“I would love to win on Friday (for an unbeatable 3-1 lead)... Then, on Sunday, I could sit back and relax... The ODIs are probably going to be my last there... I don’t think we’ll be playing in Port-of-Spain in the World Cup,” he told the Media after leading the West Indies to another thrilling win, on Tuesday.
Lara’s comments more or less confirm he intends quitting limited overs cricket after the quadrennial showpiece. He’s 37.
Coming back to the series, the pressure is all on Rahul Dravid and the strong presence of the Indian community in Trinidad may not be enough to lift morale. Match No. 3 was a disaster, not least because of three run outs and so few runs in the last dozen or so overs.
As in the first ODI, in Kingston, the issue was settled on the penultimate ball ' just that this time the West Indies won (by four wickets). They required six, to reach 246, when Sreesanth began the last over.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, who remained not out on 98 in the second match, got a hundred (an unbeaten 115 off 119 balls, 10x4, 2x6) and anchored the chase on a slowish wicket to perfection. He was superbly supported by former captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who scored a solid 58 despite having a runner for much of his innings.
“I was very keen to get a hundred on Mother’s Day (May 14), but fell short by nine runs against Zimbabwe... I’ve got one in my 100th ODI, but don’t intend dedicating it to anybody right now... Let the series get over,” Sarwan, the MoM, told The Telegraph.
Asked what had made him so much more consistent, allowing to shake off the label of an under-achiever, Sarwan answered smiling: “Hard work, for sure... I’ve been working so much harder... Then, more responsibility... It’s my duty, now, to try and bat through the innings... I’m quite enjoying this role...”
Lara, of course, praised him in the manner of an elder brother. “The boys are moving away from the Brian Lara (only) scenario... Sarwan has emerged the batsman of the team and I expect him to play the pivotal role more often... Today, he played a true Sarwan innings...”
The captain, though, pointed out he wasn’t taking “anything for granted.” As he put it: “Any team could have won any of the three... However, we’ve shown the ability to play under pressure...”
Incidentally, it’s possibly for the first time that three matches in succession have been decided in the last three balls.
Lara, by the way, accepted he was surprised when Dravid chose to bat. “It was against the norm as India have been known to chase well...” The Indian captain, who failed for the second time in as many ODIs, defended by saying the wicket was “expected” to get slower and offer more turn.
It did, but didn’t bother the West Indies and they did pace the response excellently.
“After scoring just 245, we had our backs to the wall... We missed Yuvraj Singh’s experience, but I don’t like focusing on individuals... We lost our way in the last 12-15 overs and the run outs cost us the match... We messed it up at the end and there are a few things to work on between now and Friday,” Dravid said.
Ironically, despite the Indians’ reputation of being good against spin, two non-specialists ' Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels ' have been shackling the middle-order. Greg Chappell needs to address this quicker than any question on the quality of the West Indies’ challenge.
One feels sorry for Virender Sehwag. He authored a blistering back-to-form 97, but by the close, everybody was talking of Sarwan, not the Team India vice-captain. For the visitors to stay afloat, an encore is needed.
According to manager Ranjib Biswal, who was contacted in Port-of-Spain, Yuvraj “is going to be fit” for the last two ODIs. He couldn’t play at the beautiful Warner Park owing to back spasms.