Caribbeans, kings at Queen's Park

Brian Lara's men caught India out on tracks the touring side wasn't accustomed to. And a batting line-up that has chased down targets with an other-worldly calm failed to acclimatise in time, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

No one gave them a chance before the series. They were there to make up the numbers, play the host, and perhaps provide the odd moment of sparkle. But, Brian Lara's men caught India out on tracks the touring side wasn't accustomed to. And a batting line-up that has chased down targets with an other-worldly calm failed to acclimatise in time.

Down 1-2, India needed to win to stay alive. The venue — the Queen's Park Oval — has been the site of some special performances from the visitors in the longer format. It also has been a Lara stronghold over the years. The left-hander has the most runs on the ground, whose "every blade of grass" he claims to know.

"We knew India would be desperate for a win," said the West Indies skipper. "We knew they'd depend on their key players to come to the fore — Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dravid — so we wanted to restrict them. We knew if we could get a performance out of all our eleven men against those players, we would make it very tough for them. We were the calmer side going into the game." Again India's batting came unstuck. Injudicious shot selection cost India the second game, poor running between the wickets led to its downfall in the third. It was slightly harder to put the finger on what went wrong in the fourth game. The slowness of the track played a part — Sehwag hit unsuccessfully on the up; Dravid — who read the pitch's pace — looked to score his runs behind the wicket and fell in the process.

The dismissals of both meant India had lost a means for quick runs and its mainstay. But, Yuvraj and Kaif settled into those roles. Yuvraj batted with an understated magnificence considering the track. The back-lift still was thrillingly high, but he somehow adapted his bat speed with such felicity that he hardly popped a ball in the air — something every other batsman did. The sound of leather on willow was unambiguous: none of the dullness of note that was heard when others struck the ball. Kaif is always the ugly sister of this partnership. Nonetheless his short-arm pull off Edwards had a certain beauty to it. Mostly, he ran his ones and twos, and fed off the rare loose delivery. The 25-year-old glued the Indian innings together, allowing Yuvraj first and then Dhoni to play around him.

Yuvraj's dismissal turned it for the West Indies. India was 127 for three in the 32nd over, — the platform for a target of 240-250 — defendable on the track — was being laid. Yuvraj tried to steer it to third-man and departed, caught behind. Dwayne Bravo put the brakes on with his mixture of slower balls and yorkers, dismissing Kaif, Pathan, and Agarkar. Despite Dhoni's hitting towards the end, India managed only 217.

The key to defending low totals is snaffling early wickets, and continuing to — as Ravi Shastri would say — pick up wickets at regular intervals. Drying up runs rarely works.

India got two in the first nine overs: Marlon Samuels stepped too far across his stumps to Pathan, and this generation's happy hooker, Ramnaresh Sarwan, fell to the stroke for the first time in what has been a productive series. But, Chris Gayle and Lara did just enough to put West Indies in front; then Bravo and his mentor made things irreversible.

Lara began hesitantly. Ajit Agarkar — India's standout bowler in the series — kept him honest; once, the 37-year-old playing his penultimate match at home almost chopped on. But, he soon burst into stroke — dancing down the track to off-spinner Ramesh Powar and hitting him in the arc from point to square leg.

Bravo is capable of some special things with the bat — his Test century against Shane Warne and Brett Lee, full of wristy strokes to leg, testified to as much. In the instant format though he has struggled. His first ODI half-century will probably turn it around. "Number five is a crucial spot," said the all-rounder. "My captain had faith in me and that gave me confidence. It was a challenge. The best of me comes out in tough situations, as my captain would say."

After starting circumspectly, he finished with a flurry. "My mentor Brian likes to finish things off in style," said Bravo. "He tried and failed. So I thought I would execute that." For India, the series loss was deeply disappointing. After the bold, vibrant strides taken in the limited-overs version, the loss to a team ranked eight (but playing like a much higher-ranked team) will rankle. Soul-searching and a review of strategy is in order. "I wouldn't say the boys are deflated," said Dravid. "It's not nice to lose games, lose series. So no one's jumping up and down in the dressing room. But no one is disheartened. It's part of the journey. Sometimes you run along fine, sometimes you trip up. You need to pick yourself up, dust it off, and move forward."

The scores

Fourth ODI. Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad, May 26. West Indies won by six wickets. Man of the Match: D. J. Bravo.

India: V. Sehwag c Gayle b Bradshaw 11; R. Dravid c Sarwan b Collymore 15; S. K. Raina c Sarwan b Bradshaw 7; Yuvraj Singh c Baugh b Edwards 52; M. Kaif b Bravo 62; M. S. Dhoni (not out) 46; I. K. Pathan c Collymore b Bravo 8; A. B. Agarkar b Bravo 0; R. R. Powar (not out) 0; Extras (lb 5, w 9, nb 2) 16; Total (seven wkts.) 217.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-28, 3-47, 4-127, 5-188, 6-206, 7-206.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 8-1-19-1; Bradshaw 10-0-41-2; Collymore 9-2-49-1; Bravo 5-0-32-3; Gayle 6-0-28-0; Samuels 10-1-37-0; Smith 2-0-6-0.

West Indies innings: C. H. Gayle c Agarkar b Powar 46; M. N. Samuels lbw b Pathan 9; R. R. Sarwan c Sehwag b Agarkar 6; B. C. Lara c Raina b Powar 69; D. J. Bravo (not out) 61; W. W. Hinds (not out) 13; Extras (lb 5, w 8, nb 1) 14; Total (4 wickets; 44 overs) 218

Fall of wickets: 1-28, 2-49, 3-91, 4-182.

India bowling: Pathan 5-0-32-1; Sreesanth 9-1-39-0; Agarkar 8-1-24-1; Harbhajan Singh 10-1-42-0; Powar 9-0-56-2; Yuvraj Singh 2-0-10-0; Raina 1-0-10-0.