Chappell’s Men in Blue faltered in the do-or-die game at Port of Spain in Trinidad to meekly surrender to West Indies, who wrapped up the match comfortably with a 6-wicket win. Skipper Brian Lara playing the 2nd last ODI innings in front of his home crowd helped West Indies to this comprehensive victory and he was helped in turn by fellow Trinidadian Dwayne Bravo who scored his 1st ODI fifty. West Indies made sure that this match wasn’t going to be yet another final over nail biter, got the runs with 6 overs to spare. Needing 218 to win this match, the West Indies chase revolved around the two partnerships that Lara had got going one with Gayle and the other with Bravo. India were just having a glimmer of hope after posting a small total on the board and they did show glimpses of getting back in the game but it was the brilliance of Lara that shut the lid on the match.
It was the ideal opportunity for the homeside to seal this series with the target not being that huge. West Indies got off to a busy start knocking the runs and India fought back by picking up Samuels in the 5th over with the right hander playing a careless flick shot shuffling across and getting struck on the pads to an inswinger from Pathan. And Irfan Pathan was once again disappointing having absolutely no clues in how to bowl effectively on these slow and lifeless tracks. Gayle had the right approach in trying to blast the bowlers out of the equation, which he did until Ajit Agarkar was introduced into the attack. Agarkar produced a biting short pitched delivery to which Sarwan fell a prey and with Windies at 49 for 2, in came Skipper Brian Lara amidst huge cheers from his home crowd. Gayle and Lara had to go through some anxious moments as the bounce in the pitch was becoming increasingly variable and Agarkar bowling it really well. But they got through that period and the shots came back once again to keep the scoreboard moving at a decent rate. It was Ramesh Powar, who broke this partnership removing Chris Gayle with his drifter and the left hander was enticed in playing the big lofted shot and ended up holing down to Agarkar at long off. India looked to have comeback in the game with West Indies at 91 for 3 in the 23rd over. They even tried to exert the pressure on the new man Bravo with a short leg. But the two spinners Harbhajan and Powar were kept at bay as the two batsmen Lara and Bravo played their shots. Bravo was all the time busy playing the sweep shot and other shots to get off the strike and also taking his chances here and there. That allowed Lara to settle down and soon the big shots and also the delicate ones kept flowing from the left hander’s blade. In Harbhajan’s last over, Brian Lara peaked at his best, whacking the off spinner with the turn for a couple of boundaries and then went onto jump out of the crease and play a breathtaking lofted on drive for a six to prove that he was still the Prince of Trinidad for whom the crowd come to watch. Lara however couldn’t stay the distance as he holed out trying to hit Powar for a boundary. But with West Indies at 198 for 4, the task wasn’t difficult for the remaining batsmen. Bravo kept going after his skipper departed and along with Wavell Hinds saw West Indies to victory.
The pressure was on the Indian batsmen to deliver after they were put into bat first by Lara, who has increasingly become confident about his team’s ability to chase the Indian targets. It was a hopeless start for India as the pressure was exerted at both the ends by some good accurate and swing bowling from Bradshaw and Fidel Edwards. Bradshaw once again picked up two wickets at the top as he accounted for the dismissals of Sehwag and Raina, with both of them looking to force the ball on the rise. Yuvraj, who is back in this game started to repair the damage done with Dravid but his skipper walked back to the pavilion playing an atrocious shot away from his body to give catching practice to Sarwan. Yuvraj then found a perfect ally in Mohammad Kaif and slowly but steadily a fighting partnership was developing. India was ensuring that they had the wickets intact for the slog overs as this partnership blossomed to put on 79 runs for the 4th wicket. It was Fidel Edwards who bowled a beauty in his 2nd spell to get rid of the dangerous Yuvraj. Yuvraj was forced to nick a short of good length delivery from Edwards that left him a touch. After that Dhoni joined Kaif and the two struggled to get the quick runs as Marlon Samuels and Chris Gayle did their job of restricting the run flow. Once again as the slog overs were on, it was Dwayne Bravo causing a headache with his slower deliveries. Bravo went onto pick up three wickets in the death and India ended up scoring 217. Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried his best to hit the big shots, but he wasn’t good enough on this track but in the end somehow got to make 46 with six boundaries. He did show the Trinidad people flashes of his brilliance, but in the end couldn’t get as many as he would have loved to. All the West Indies bowlers did their part in bowling tight line and lengths and Lara had an easy time rotating them regularly and keeping the batsmen guessing with his moves.
The Series has been taken by the underrated West Indies and now after a day’s break, it’s going to be that last clash of this ODI Series at this same ground. Down and out, Team India would be trying their best to be motivated and play for their lost pride.