Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Tue, May 23, '06
from MICHELLE McDONALD in Basseterre
'Happy Hour' is supposed to be happy, but for the Indians, it was a miserable time at Warner Park in St Kitts today. After cruising to 204 for 3 at the end of the 35th over, the visitors saw their timbers shattered four more times for the addition of only 23 runs.
The West Indies were going to be chasing for the first time in the series, and in the end, with only 246 runs to get on a wicket suited for strokeplay, the Indians would have to pull off a spectacular bowling effort to deny their hosts a second successive victory.
It seemed as if the West Indians were going to get to the target easily, with Ramnaresh Sarwan, playing in his 100th ODI, stroking the ball confidently to register his third century. He found an ally in Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who was forced to bat with Runako Morton as his runner after picking up a leg injury.
However, when Chanderpaul departed in the 48th over, and Bravo was run out on the first ball in the last over still needing five runs for victory, it seemed like reporters would have to start re-writing their opening lines, and several heart attacks were in the making for the expectant crowd.
The Indians made two changes with fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and middle order batsman Venugopal Rao coming in for Yuvraj Singh ? suffering from back spasms ? and Munaf Patel. After Ian Bradshaw had removed captain Rahul Dravid and the number three Suresh Raina, Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif featured in a 112 run partnership. Dwayne Bravo then got the dangerous Sehwag with an lbw decision, making way for three run outs, a catch by Samuels to his own bowling and a wicket for very part-time leg spinner Ramnaresh Sarwan.
For a time during the Indian innings, the West Indians seemed not able to cut off the runs, and the visitors were racing towards the promised run-fest at six runs per over. Marlon Samuels and Chris Gayle were the pick of the bowlers on economy rate, while Dwayne Bravo and Ian Bradshaw collected two wickets each. The runouts were crucial in bringing some excitement and the possibility for a small total back into the game.
As the West Indians started their reply, spectators would have been surprised not to see their hometown hero Runako Morton walking out to bat. Instead, it was Marlon Samuels who was given the responsibility to open ? his first time in that position. Captain Brian Lara explained the thinking behind the decision.
"The most important part of it was getting Chanderpaul to bat at number six. It meant that we had more experience coming later on in the innings and we threw a bit of experience up front, see if we could get Marlon Samuels striking the ball positively," he said. Unfortunately the latter did not materialize, with Samuels going lbw for 11 to Sreesanth for his only wicket in the match. Morton followed soon after without scoring.
Chris Gayle was uncharacteristically reserved, while the in-form Sarwan set about building an innings which Lara later described as "brilliant". "I think he is now proving that we can look forward to innings like that. It's nice to see him maturing as the player in our team. I expect to say 'brilliant' more often," he said.
The right handed batsman enjoyed being able to bat through the innings once more, this time converting to a century. "I think probably this is one of my best innings because of the whole occasion, first ODI in St Kitts and 100 one day games," said Sarwan, who took note of the manner of Samuels' and Morton's dismissal. "The ball kept a bit low on both of them, so my plan was to try and keep as many balls in front of me and try and make as much as I could on bad balls," he stated.
In the end, it came down to the last over?...again. Sarwan was still there, and he decided to take charge of the situation when Dwayne Bravo departed first ball. "We needed six runs so I was just telling Carlton [Baugh] to try and get bat on to ball whether he could get a single or even a boundary. I just wanted to finish the game on a boundary. I thought it was appropriate if I continued to be positive," he explained.
With one ball to spare, the right hander stroked Sreesanth's attempted yorker to the cover boundary, delighting the crowd, which included Prime Minister Dr the Hon Denzil Douglas. "The victory means wonders for the people of St Kitts and Nevis, not only was today a historical day in the sense that it's our first ODI on a brand new ground, but it is also a victory. We are very proud of this moment. I believe that on behalf of all of the people of the Caribbean, we can say that we are justly proud," he beamed.
Although disappointed, Indian captain Rahul Dravid was pragmatic. "It's good for the boys; it's really good for us in the team. Rather than winning and losing easily, this is another good chance to experience some pressure and experience close games. We have got a lot of young boys in our team and I think these things will help them. When you are put under pressure, it really helps you. I think it does a lot for you and I think you learn a lot from these games," said Dravid.
The West Indian captain agrees. Lara said "these close results are better than beating a team by huge margins. I think it is going to show the guys what it is to play cricket under this sort of pressure and I think we are going to learn more from it."
Lara feels that the West Indian people must be happy with the team's performance. "It's exciting cricket and we've shown that we've got the character. I am a happy man going home," he smiled.
The series climaxes in Trinidad, where Lara reckons it might be the last two ODIs of his career. "I'm looking forward to winning on Friday and enjoying Sunday. It's going to be exciting, it's going to be momentous for me and I am sure it is going to be great for the team if we can pull off a victory as early as Friday," he said.
Should West Indies win the series there, a celebration of huge proportions would be fitting. Until then, the carnival like atmosphere on Fort Street in Basseterre will have to do.