| Brian Lara with daughter Sydney in Port-of-Spain on Sunday. (Reuters)
Bridgetown: If the Queen’s Park Oval in pretty Port-of-Spain saw the mother of all celebrations after the West Indies hammered India 4-1, with senior pro Chris Gayle uncorking the biggest bottle of champagne this side of the Atlantic, Knaggs Hill would surely have seen the party of this Millennium on Sunday night.
Reason being captain Brian Lara invited his team to his residence for celebrating what has to rank as an extraordinary effort. The West Indies began the Digicel series as underdogs, but recovered after losing the first match (on the penultimate ball) to crush Team India both on the ground and in the mind.
In time, coach Greg Chappell will regret having said the “West Indies have forgotten to win.” As Lara pointed out, that remark (after ODI No. 1) gave his team the “fillip” to raise the bar and send the ICC rankings for a toss.
From No. 3 at the start, five ahead of the West Indies, India have slipped to No. 5.
A shade over two months ago, a severely under-strength England beat India in Mumbai to draw the Test series. At the Queen’s Park Oval, Lara rested three regulars (Marlon Samuels, Ian Bradshaw and Fidel Edwards) and out, too, was ’keeper Carlton Baugh (Jr). Yet, the West Indies didn’t have to stretch every sinew in winning by 19 runs.
The Indians bowled poorly and fielded pathetically. Then, chasing 256, they crashed to 236 in 48 overs despite a very healthy 170 for four in the 32nd over. Virender Sehwag again scored 90-plus, but barring 20s from Yuvraj Singh (he’d looked in great touch), Harbhajan Singh and Ajit Agarkar, nobody made even a token contribution.
Unbelievably, the Indians couldn’t reach the series’ highest target even though frontline quick Corey Colleymore got injured within minutes of the chase and couldn’t send down a single ball.
First-timer Dave Mohammed picked up three wickets, prompting Rahul Dravid (who was run out) to acknowledge that the West Indies utilised the conditions “much better.” Jerome Taylor also got three, the damage being done in the later stages.
Earlier this year, the one-day team ensured a bounce-back after India lost the Test series in Pakistan. This time, Dravid is hoping the Test team does likewise. “We’ve got to regroup and bounce back... We didn’t play to potential and that hurts... However, there’s no point getting emotional...”
Dravid conceded the last two ODIs had been the “most disappointing” since he got the captaincy full-time eight months ago. “We were out-fielded and the batsmen kept falling short by 15-20... We failed to rotate the strike as well... We missed Sachin Tendulkar, but I’m not going to say these boys aren’t good enough... Won’t be the right thing at this point in time...”
While Dravid has been left licking his wounds, Lara is on Cloud Nine.
He didn’t comment when asked if the Indians had themselves forgotten to win, but did say: “I’m very proud of the boys, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry... We’re better than India’s current one-day team, but Test cricket is the ultimate test and we’ll have to be consistent over 15 sessions in each match...”
Lara didn’t quite agree that the psychological advantage is with his team. “This was one-day cricket and it has been done and dusted with... India have Anil Kumble and Harbhajan and are going to return fresh from the drawing board... Having said that, we’re definitely taking positives from this series...”
Asked if there was a secret behind the West Indies’ turnaround, Lara replied: “It’s in team meetings that we win matches... The meetings could be at nine in the morning or six in the evening, but I know the boys come away with confidence enhanced... That’s it...”
While Dravid copes with a somewhat unusual situation, he hasn’t lost faith. Indeed, The Telegraph was around at the Hilton, in Port-of-Spain, when he told a well-wisher “but, you should be staying on for the Test series... We’ll win it...”
One assumes fingers have to be kept crossed.
Dwayne Bravo was adjudged MoM on Sunday, too (edging out Sehwag). The in-superb-form Ramnaresh Sarwan got the Man-of-the-Series award. He had scores of 2, 98 not out, 115 not out, 6 and 52. No wonder Lara has called him the batsman of the team.
Interacting with the Media, Sarwan maintained he was always “seeking to improve” and wanted to be as consistent as Lara, Sachin, Dravid and Ricky Ponting. “When I end, I would like to be remembered as a great player,” he declared.
Sarwan is on track.
Footnote: Lara bid farewell to ODIs at the Queen’s Park Oval and, with a touch of emotion, remarked “I would love to play one more Test on my home ground...” He thanked Trinis for such overwhelming support, saying that while he may not always have delivered, “both sides” can shake hands for a wonderful association.