Another Sarwan show

Ramnaresh Sarwan played a masterful innings and clinched the match off the penultimate ball. His third hundred in his 100th ODI — an unbeaten 115 — won him his second successive Man of the Match award, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

Warner Park is a unique stadium in an era of concrete monstrosities. It is — like many cricket stadia in West Indies — suitably situated amidst rolling hills, with a view of the sea: sometimes shimmering silver sometimes placid blue.

But, where it scores over others of its kind is the experience of nearness to action a fan gets with the purchase of a ticket. Grassy mounds on both the eastern and western sides ensure a constant heaving, swaying, intimate multitude; neat blocks of stands make certain the craning of necks, watching cricket at the MCG or the Wanderers or Eden Gardens entails, is unnecessary.

From the press box, Fidel Edwards, at the start of his run, looked remarkably close. If St. Lucia — as it's made out to be — is any nearer to the action than this is, it must be worth waiting for.

West Indies and India put on a match worth waiting for as well. The first-ever international cricket match at Warner Park went down to the wire — the third in three ODIs in the series.

Ramnaresh Sarwan played a masterful innings and clinched the match off the penultimate ball. His third hundred in his 100th ODI — an unbeaten 115 — won him his second successive Man of the Match award and left India down 1-2 in the five-match series.

West Indies needed six off the last over — Dravid capped a wretched day when he failed to run Sarwan out off the fourth ball. He had had a similar opportunity in the 37th over and had muffed it up. "We needed what six runs?" asked Sarwan rhetorically at the end of the match. "I thought I should finish it with a four because I was being very positive, and it seemed appropriate."

While Sarwan may have hammered in the last few nails, India did a good job of getting inside the coffin and obligingly shutting the lid. From 174 for two at one stage, it collapsed to 245. The last 15 overs saw just 41 runs being scored as Sehwag's brilliance went in vain. The opener from Delhi had managed starts in each of the first two matches. This time he went to 97 before a Dwayne Bravo swinging yorker found him in front.

On a wicket that didn't entirely aid stroke-play, Sehwag managed a blinder. A carve over point for six off Bradshaw prompted looks of disbelief, but almost every other stroke he played compared favourably. Once or twice, Edwards forced him into an awkward fend off; Sehwag, however, never looked like being dismissed. Once he left, things went south. M. S. Dhoni didn't accelerate in time after running on a misfield and was run out.

Kaif — who made a typically fighting 61 — was next. Venugopala Rao, who had replaced Yuvraj Singh (back spasm), laboured to work singles and panicked.

He called Kaif through — only the Uttar Pradesh cricketer's foot speed almost allowed him to make it. "Those three run outs — Dhoni, Kaif, and Venu — cost us the game," Dravid said later.

Ajit Agarkar helped India start well with the ball, but as Dravid acknowledged, his side was chasing the game. "We really had our backs to the wall through the game," he said. "They had wickets in hand. We just wanted to try and stretch it till the end, and hope to get a couple of good overs in and put pressure. We managed that because we were smart, but Sarwan batted brilliantly. He controlled the game and was there till the end."

Irfan Pathan struggled to impress with the ball; off-spinner Ramesh Powar was taken to the cleaners in the first spell; and Dravid missed Yuvraj Singh's mixture of loopy and flat stuff from left-arm over. Shivnarine Chanderpaul picked up an hamstring tear and batted better after it. His crucial six off Agarkar in the 45th over reduced the equation favourably.

"Sometimes, we just need to trigger him a bit," said Lara about the man he took over from. "You've heard about Greenidge, and what he did with injury. Maybe he (Chanderpaul) is a Greenidge."

Injudicious shot selection let India down in the second match; poor running between the wickets — casual, desperate, plain mindless — put paid to its hopes in this game. West Indies, on the other hand, has grown in belief, and reduced reliance on its skipper. The venue deserves the last words in this piece. A nation with a population that can be fitted into most Indian grounds, St. Kitts, won its bid to host matches of the 2007 World Cup.

If the match held here is any indication, the country is as ready as any in the Caribbean. Which isn't a compliment, for the World Cup promises to be a logistical nightmare.

But, nothing should be taken away from the work done at Warner Park — the press facilities are very good albeit exorbitantly priced, the practice wickets pass muster, and the track and the outfield are up to scratch.

The Scores

Third ODI, Warner Park, St Kitts, May 23. West Indies won by 4 wkts. Man of the Match: R. Sarwan

India: V. Sehwag lbw b Bravo 97; R. Dravid lbw b Bradshaw 0; S. K. Raina b Bradshaw 26; M. Kaif (run out) 61; M.S. Dhoni (run out) 15; Y. Venugopal Rao (run out) 11; I. K. Pathan c & b Samuels 1; R. R. Powar b Sarwan 1; A. B. Agarkar c Lara b Bravo 8; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 8; S. Sreesanth not out 1; Extras (lb 4, w 11, nb 1) 16; Total (9 wkts.) 245.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-62, 3-174, 4-210, 5-215, 6- 218, 7-222, 8-232, 9-242.

West Indies bowling: Bradshaw 8-2-40-2; Edwards 9-0-49-0; Taylor 4-0-30-0; Samuels 10-0- 41-1; Bravo 8-0-45-2; Gayle 10-0-35-0; Sarwan 1-0- 1-1;

West Indies: C. H. Gayle c Dhoni b Agarkar 40; M. N. Samuels lbw b Sreesanth 11; R. S. Morton lbw b Agarkar 0; R. R. Sarwan (not out) 115; B. C. Lara c Dravid b Harbhajan Singh 5; S. Chanderpaul lbw b Pathan 58; D. J. Bravo (run out) 1; C. S. Baugh (not out) 1; Extras (b 4, lb 2, w 9, nb 2) 17; Total (for 6 wickets; 49.5 overs) 248.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-31, 3-116, 4-131, 5-237, 6-241.

India bowling: Pathan 9-0-50-1; Agarkar 10-1- 32-2; Sreesanth 9.5-0-57-1; Harbhajan Singh 10-1- 33-1; Powar 10-1-59-0; Sehwag 1-0-11-0.