West Indies won their first match of the ongoing Pepsi Cup Series by winning the 3rd ODI at Chennai by three wickets. Although the margin of victory sounds narrow, it was a comfortable one as Marlon Samuels and Brian Lara had most part of their chase of 269 under supreme control. As long as these two batsmen were at the crease, India didn’t stand a chance as no bowler created any serious impression on them and once they departed off the scene, there was too little for India to play with.
With the World Cup just a few games away, India brought in five changes to test out some of the players. Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Anil Kumble and Sreesanth were included at the expense of Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Joginder Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. West Indies brought back Skipper Brian Lara and gave opportunities to Lendl Simmons and Rayad Emrit, the all rounder, who got to make his ODI Debut today. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Smith and Ian Bradshaw were given a break. Most people thought Lara had got it completely wrong when he had invited India to bat first on a perfect batting strip at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Although Gautam Gambhir was dismissed very early, caught cutting to thirdman off Daren Powell, it still looked like a brave decision in putting the opposition in and give them the opportunity to pile up a huge total. A young pair of Robin Uthappa and Suresh Raina was taking charge of the proceedings in the middle. For the 21-year-old Robin Uthappa, batting infront of the 40,000 crowd was like batting in his backyard! He is some one who loves the ball coming onto the bat and without wasting anytime stamped his presence in the centre with his bludgeoning shots to have the West Indians completely rattled. Here was one man who showed that Virender Sehwag wasn’t the only blazing opener in India at this stage. Within no time, Robin got his second ODI fifty, which had come in 32 balls. He added 20 more runs before he paid the penalty for going across the line in whacking a Chris Gayle delivery during the second powerplay. Nevertheless, it was a fairy tale innings from Robin with his 70 runs coming in just 41 balls with 11 fours and two sixes. In the 11th over, India had smashed close to 100 runs! India had raced away from 50 to 100 in the matter of 24 balls! Suresh Raina, who got a start to his innings wasted it by getting out in the 20s, playing a careless drive to be caught at covers off Jerome Taylor.
Skipper Rahul Dravid joined Sachin Tendulkar and these two batsmen are not the ones who wouldn’t cash in on such a beautiful wicket. Their partnership wasn’t something spectacular but one that was setting their team a platform for the slogs. Rahul Dravid after getting his 75th fifty decided to step up the gas by slogging Chris Gayle out of long on. But newcomer Emrit hung onto a super cool catch just centimeters infront of the rope to end the Indian Skipper’s innings. Dravid scored his 57 from 67 balls with 6 fours. He put on 106 with Tendulkar in about 20 overs. In the 38th over, Tendulkar perished trying to get a boundary playing an attacking shot which he had miscued. Runako Morton at mid on had taken a stunner flying to his left to end Tendulkar’s stay in the middle. Tendulkar scored his first half century of this series, to be precise he had made 60 from 66 with just the two boundaries. India at this stage were 237 for 5 and all they could add up was 31 more runs in about 10 overs at the cost of five wickets! Yuvraj Singh was partly responsible in India’s downfall as he scratched around in the middle for 21 balls scoring only 10 runs. He would need some quality time in the middle to get over his tentativeness. Marlon Samuels had created the pressure by keeping it very tight in the slog overs and Dwayne Bravo made best use of the wicket by banging his short deliveries and getting them to lift. He took four wickets which brought Windies into a strong position. India got bowled out for 268 with two overs wasted. Samuels took only one wicket but he conceded only 41 runs in his 10 overs. While Bravo had figures of 4 for 39 in 9 overs. The West Indian fielding was a mixed bag, there were a few great saves and catches and at the same time there were atleast two stumping chances going down and two dropped catches.
India were short of lot of runs on a track that had very little margin of error for the bowlers and also the fact that the dew was expected to arrive under the lights. Ajit Agarkar provided a dream start by getting his first delivery, also the first of the innings to pitch in line and swing back to have Chris Gayle plumb in front of the stumps. Agarkar got India into a much stronger position when he got the wicket of Runako Morton, who had poked at a wide outswinger to be caught behind. The tourists were in a spot of bother at 27 for 2 in the 3rd over but Agarkar didn’t get the much needed support from Sreesanth, who was erratic. Sreesanth had infact conceded 28 runs in his first over which had included 10 wides on either side of the wicket. Devon Smith, the opening batsman showed an excellent temperament and Samuels at the other end was fighting to negotiate whatever little the new ball was doing from Agarkar. Both these batsmen steadied the ship with their strokeplay and it was only in the 13th over that India could get their next breakthrough. Anil Kumble was the one providing that as he forced Devon Smith to edge his top spinner which was taken brilliantly by Dravid at first slip. Windies were 92 for 3 at that stage with Devon Smith getting almost a run-a-ball 33 with 6 fours in that total. Samuels and Lara came together and their partnership never allowed India to get back into the match. Lara was severe on Anil Kumble, who had looked ordinary bowling to the left hander.
West Indies were inching towards an easy win through the pair of Samuels and Lara but these two were not fortunate to carry their side to the target. Samuels had to depart just two runs short of what could have been his third century in ODIs as he was caught low down to his left by Dinesh Karthik. Ajit Agarkar was the bowler who had got that wicket with Samuels getting an inside edge to a drive on the up. Windies were 219 for 4 with another 49 to get from 99 balls! The required run rate was never going to be an issue with Samuels getting his 98 in quicktime, in 95 balls with a dozen fours and a six. And Lara smacked most of the remaining runs with some entertaining shots. He eventually fell with 11 more to win as he stepped down the track to loft Powar for another six, but had miscued it to be caught at covers. Lara had scored 83 from 88 with 10 fours and two sixes. Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons were not good enough to stay in the crease for just the few runs left. But the victory was an inevitable one which had come in the 44th over. Ajit Agarkar was the best bowler for India with 3 for 45 but he could have kept his wides under a check. Ramesh Powar was the next successful with 2 for 53 in 10 overs while the others struggled to contain the batsmen who were in full flow.
The fourth and final ODI is at Baroda on the 31st and India would be making atleast one change. Local boy Irfan Pathan, who had a good outing in the Ranji Trophy Semi Final will play most probably and he might replace Sreesanth.