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|May 5, 1997||
Windies take ODI series 3-1
For me, the 10-wicket win by the West Indies at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, in the fourth and final ODI of the Cable and Wireless Series, was most interesting for the insight it provides into the capabilities of the West Indian management.
And by management we mean, of course, manager Clive Lloyd and bowling coach Malcolm Marshall.
In the first place, it is interesting that the West Indies have a seperate coach for bowling - and throughout this tour, the advantage of this tactic has been all too obvious. Time after time, we have seen the Windies quicks bowl in wayward fashion, pitching far too short on wickets that offer movement when the ball is pitched up. Then comes a break in play - lunch, tea, whatever. And immediately after, they come out again and suddenly, length, line, direction, everything's perfect.
Franklyn Rose, in fact, acknowledged the impact of Marshall's advice on his bowling when he said the results he obtained in his debut game were purely due to his coach's advice.
In this game, Lloyd and Marshall had obviously put their heads together in order to ensure that the Windies wrapped up the series in style. The result, a most peculiar pitch - I think this must be the first time that I, at least, have come across a wicket where the grass is left uncut for some four feet at either end, while the rest of the pitch surface is mown close to the surface and well-rolled.
The result was that when the ball was pitched up in the grassy area - especially in the first innings, when the grass is fresh and has not yet been bruised - there would be lift and, more to the point, extreme movement off the seam. Obviously, the ploy was to put the Indian batting on the back foot on a wicket of this nature.
Of course, the success of the enterprise depended on Courtney Walsh winning the toss and opting to bowl - something Lloyd nor Marshall could have foreseen. In this sense, it was a gamble - because, as has been seen earlier in this series, the Indian medium pacers are equally adept at exploiting helpful conditions. But then, there is an axiom of gambling - when you do so with a loaded pocket, you tend to win; try staking all when your pockets are to let and you as inevitably lose. For the West Indies, with a lead of 2-1 going into the match, there was no way they could lose the series. Thus, they gambled from strength - and it came off.
Walsh, for once, won the toss - and promptly opted to bowl first, intending to exploit the early morning conditions. And India had taken a big step towards defeat right there - ironically, for the second time, Sachin Tendulkar was to lose a crucial toss at Barbados. He called wrong in the Test and India ended up batting last on a minefield; he called wrong again and India ended up batting first in inimical conditions.
Neither team made any changes to its lineup. Fair enough, I suppose, though given Robin Singh's very bad run of form, I would have been tempted to replace him with Sunil Joshi, playing in the all-rounder slot and giving India an additional bowling option, or with V V S Laxman, giving India more beef in the middle order.
Going in to the match, Curtley Ambrose needed two wickets to reach the 200 mark in ODIs. And from ball one, it was apparent that the gangling Antiguan pace ace was all fired up for this game - he was in almost unstoppable mood. Saurav Ganguly took advantage of a loosener on middle and leg stumps to flick through square leg for a four off his pads - and Curtley promptly struck back, two deliveries later, with a dream of a yorker, swinging in impossibly late and pitching inches before the stumps, to have the Indian opener back in the pavilion for 4 off 5 deliveries, and India 4/1.
Tendulkar, at the other end, was playing with the caution the pitch, and the bowling, demanded. But Courtney Walsh is perhaps the most canny fast bowler in the world today, making up with a shrewd thinking brain what he may have lost over the years in pace. Having produced three breakbacks in succession, each on a perfect length and calculated to have the batsman defending in front of his body, Walsh without any perceptible change of action then produced the perfect awayswinger, pitching in the identical slot and drawing Tendulkar forward again, the movement in the opposite direction to the one the batsman was anticipating forcing the edge for Lara, standing wide at slip, to dive to his left and hold a brilliant catch.
At 11/2, with the off-form Azharuddin joining Rahul Dravid at the wicket, India was in deep trouble. At the end of 10 overs, India had in fact made a mere 17 runs. But the interesting thing about the Windies attack in ODIs is that neither the accurate Rose nor the wayward Ottis Gibson are quite in the league of Walsh and Ambrose - thus, sensible batting by Dravid and Azhar, both of whom concentrated on the placements and quick running between the wickets, saw India recover to 62/2 in 20 overs.
At that stage, India, while not out of the woods, had done a lot to reverse the damage caused by the early loss of the openers. And then came a good piece of outcricket. Rose pitched short on Dravid's middle and leg stump - always a danger area to a batsman who is classically correct in that region. Dravid rocked into a hook, perhaps tempted by the fact that Chanderpaul was placed very wide at the sweeper position. Most fielders would have allowed that ball to go over the line for a six - Chanderpaul, however, anticipated brilliantly, made enormous ground and held a high overhead catch in the manner of a baseball outfielder to have India down to 63/3, the consistent Dravid falling for 30 off 61 deliveries with four fours.
Azharuddin has never been in anything remotely approaching his best form on this tour, and this last innings - in all probability, his last on West Indies soil - was on par with the rest. But to his credit, he concentrated on hanging in there, using his experience to do for him what his form could not, and working the ball around for ones and twos. And with Ajay Jadeja at the other end, the running between wickets reached its peak.
Concentration and determination, however, can only get you thus far, and no further. And thus, when Shivnaraine Chanderpaul was brought on, the lack of touch forced the error, Azhar (40 off 69 with three fours) touching a wide delivery outside off, which in his best form he would have despatched blindfold to the square point fence, into the gloves of Courtney Browne and India 93/4.
A friend was telling me that Robin Singh's performance was becoming something of an engima. Wonder why? Look at Robin's best innings, and you will see that they have all been played on ideal batting tracks, never on wickets where the ball either did not come on, or did too much off the seam. The trouble with the Indian think tank has been, and remains, an almost disastrous over-simplification - Robin Singh can hit a few and bowl a few, ergo he is an all-rounder, ergo suited for all ODIs. We've seen the fallacy of that kind of simplistic thinking earlier, on slower wickets. Here, on one offering help to the quicks, Robin was again tried, and found wanting. It is, in fact, ironic that his first outing to the West Indies, eight years and more ago, found him similarly at sea and ensured a prolonged hibernation from international cricket - and after this tour, I wouldn't be surprised if I see say a Vinod Kambli entering the team to claim his place in the middle order.
In the event, Robin hung around - and this period was noteworthy most especially for the way Jadeja, playing with supreme skill and making up, with deft placement, for his partner's lack of form, kept coming down the track to talk to Robin, and keep him focussed on the job in hand. It argues an intense commitment on Jadeja's part, and that should be heartening for an Indian skipper who has of late had occasion to complain of the lack of that quality among some of his mates.
In the event, Robin did give substitute fielder Leon Garrick a simple catch, with a silly stroke to a loose delivery by Gibson. At that point, he had scored 29 off 56, an unacceptable rate at that point of the innings which, by then, was already into the slog phase, and India was 168/5 in 45 overs.
Karim and Jadeja did their best to mend matters with good placements and frenetic running, till Walsh returned and again proved that there is no substitute for experience, bowling Jadeja with a superb inswinging yorker that defeated the batsman's attempt to play it square, and made a mess of his stumps. Jadeja gone for 68 off 78 with four fours - in the context of the game, a superlative knock - and India 187/6.
Predictably enough, the rest of the batting lost its way, panicking in the final overs. Karim was run out for 14 off 18, and Kumble (8 off 6) and David (1 off 2) took the score to a totally inadequate 199/7 in the allotted 50 overs.
For the West Indies, Walsh was - there is no other word for it - magnificient. Ambrose was not quite up in that same class today, except in his first spell - but even he was too good a bowler to be hit around in the slog phase on a wicket like this. Gibson, however, remained expensive, and this is a problem the West Indies have to solve in a hurry, while Rose bowled with his trademark parsimony.
The only danger to the West Indies, in chasing a modest target of 200 off 50 overs, was that a couple of early wickets would pile on the pressure. And Williams in fact looked vulnerable early in his innings against the seaming ball.
However, as usually happens with a grassy, well-watered pitch when the game is played under bright sunshine, the moisture had long since been absorbed, the grass had been well bruised and lost a lot of its initial spring, and batting was always going to be easier for the team going in second.
Even then, the Windies win would have been harder to achieve had it not been for one man - Shivnaraine Chanderpaul. This tour has seen the young left-hander blossom, and make the transition from good to great. It was in Barbados that he broke the hoodoo and got his first Test 100, and Chanderpaul used the same venue to get his first ODI ton as well.
The two innings couldn't have been more of a contrast. While the Test ton was an exercise in patient graft on a dodgy wicket while higher rated batsmen struggled, this one was an exercise in total dominance, of a fashion that has till date been associated only with a Lara or, on occasion, a Hooper.
From ball one, Chanderpaul took the attack to the bowling, and slammed the attack around, displaying in the process an array of strokes few suspected him of possessing. It was interesting to hear Michael Holding, in the television commentary box, saying after Chanderpaul had played a spectacular on-drive to a Kumble top-spinner: "I never knew he could play that shot like that!"
"Like that" was the operative phrase - Chanderpaul has been more of a pusher than a belter of the ball - but today, his confidence is so high that he feels able to loosen up, to play through the line and to permit free rein, for perhaps the first time in his career (though there was an inkling of what was to come earlier this year, when he launched a spectacular assault on the Aussie bowlers, especially Shane Warne, in course of an ODI series Down Under), to the kind of strokeplay normally associated with Caribbean left-handers.
In a word, Chanderpaul took the game away from India with the bat - and deservedly gained both the man of the match and man of the series awards. In the process, he gave the shaky Williams the opportunity to settle down - and once Williams, taking heart from Chanderpaul's blitz, started playing his own strokes, the game was lost. Interesting contrast in styles, those two - Chanderpaul the rapier, slicing the attack and bleeding it to death; Williams the bludgeon, blunt and brutal, using the bat like a club to batter the bowling into submission.
If I were maintaining a cricketing ledger, then the biggest entry on the plus side at the end of this tour would be Chanderpaul's blossoming as a batsman of class and calibre. For one thing became all too apparent watching him play here - the cricketing world is destined to hear more, much more, of this slim left hander.
I'll close this with a parting thought - earlier, we've discussed the need for grasping every half-chance to win that comes the way of a team. Today, with the scoreboard reading 3-1, Sachin Tendulkar and his men have all the more reason to rue the idiocy of St Vincent. And to think of the huge difference between a scoreline that reads 3-1, and one that should have read 2-2 - and realising that they have only themselves to blame.
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