Fielding tilts the scales

India needed to reverse a slide of three consecutive defeats to finish the one-day leg of its tour on a high, but the team that turned up at the Queen's Park Oval didn't seem to want to, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

Predicted to steamroller West Indies in the five-match series, India, was outplayed and embarrassed. The final match was the notorious dead rubber — where the slightly abstract concept of pride is contested. India needed to reverse a slide of three consecutive defeats to finish the one-day leg of its tour on a high.

The team that turned up at the Queen's Park Oval didn't seem to want to. In comfortably their worst performance of the series and the last eight months, the men in blue surrendered. "We have been out-fielded this series," said Rahul Dravid. "Some of these matches have been very close. Even today it was only 20 runs — something the West Indies have been able to make up in the field. It's an area we've worked hard on and we pride ourselves on it, so it's disappointing."

Ironically, despite the fielding horrors of the first session — interspersed by brief moments of pulling things back — India, at various stages, looked like it might chase down the target of 256. Virender Sehwag played an innings of only two flaws: being involved in the Dravid run out when the two were setting their side on course, and chipping fatally to short cover on 95, when he could have still taken India to victory.

In between, he played some marvellous square drives matched only by Yuvraj Singh. The left-hander from Punjab fell to a left-arm spinner — chinaman and googly bowler Dave Mohammed. Mohammad Kaif took the score to 170 for four with Sehwag. Any team worth its chasing salt should manage 86 in the last 18 overs. But, India's batsmen have struggled to cope with the slowness of Caribbean tracks, and the touring side lost its last six wickets for just 66 runs.

This included a partnership of 41 for the eighth wicket between Agarkar and Harbhajan that took the men in blue to within striking distance. But, it was not to be.

"I think Taylor coming back and picking those three wickets was the turning point of the match," said Dravid referring to Lara's decision to bring his paceman on in the 32nd over. Taylor responded with the wickets of Kaif, Raina and Sehwag.

Earlier, wicket-keeper M. S. Dhoni dropped Chris Gayle off the second ball of the match: it was an augury of things to follow. The tall Jamaican immediately picked on Sreesanth, cutting him past point, lashing him through the covers, and slogging him to mid-wicket. He gallivanted along, reverse sweeping indulgently past 50. Sehwag bowled his 10 overs on the trot for just 29. His form with the ball in the series hadn't inspired confidence, but his control of pace and line in the fifth ODI was outstanding. He fired one through Gayle's sweep, terminating the left-hander's innings of 51. Sarwan had just one four in his 97-ball 52: a streaky edge off Agarkar past second slip. He turned it over to his skipper playing his last ODI in front of his home crowd. Ever a man for an occasion, Lara — who had walked out to a standing ovation from a holiday crowd — brought out one stroke that will remain forever in the memories of those that saw it. The lightest of skips and the most gorgeous of bat swings expelled an off-colour Harbhajan to the sightscreen.

But, just when his side needed him in top gear, Lara stumbled on a second run to be caught short of his crease by Agarkar's nifty pick-up and throw from squarish mid-wicket.

Dwayne Bravo began striking the ball with those virtuoso wrists of his, often looking like a mirror image of Lara. The carve behind point, head thrown back gallantly, was all Caribbean virility. As was the inside-out full-blooded swing over cover.

The all-rounder from Trinidad put on 78 in 10.2 overs with Wavell Hinds as India's fielding grew more ragged. The most disappointing aspect of the match was the effort of some of the visiting side's players. Munaf Patel looked decidedly unathletic as he struggled on the boundary ropes, but even India's finest were guilty. Yuvraj conceded an extra run with an unnecessary throw, Uthappa — though he hasn't done much on the international stage, he has a good rap as a fieldsman — put Bravo down, when he was on 22.

Forty-nine runs were plundered in the final five overs as West Indies passed 250 — par on the wicket.

Lara later said his team won its matches in the team meetings. "You've got to be there to experience it. That's where we won the games, in our preparation. We came out feeling good about our chances." The match turned out to be a fitting farewell for Lara the one-day cricketer on this ground.

The scores

Fifth ODI, Trinidad, May 28. West Indies won by 19 runs. Player of the match: D. J. Bravo (West Indies). Player of the series: R. R. Sarwan (West Indies).

West Indies: C. H. Gayle b Sehwag 51; S. Chattergoon b Agarkar 0; R. R. Sarwan b Sreesanth 52; B. C. Lara (run out) 36; D. J. Bravo (not out) 62; W. W. Hinds c Sehwag b Agarkar 32; D. R. Smith b Patel 1; D. Ramdin (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, lb-3, w-13, nb-3) 20; Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-90, 3-137, 4-165, 5-243, 6-251.

India bowling: Sreesanth 10-0-62-1; Agarkar 10-1-44-2; Patel 10-0-64-1; Harbhajan 10-0-52-0; Sehwag 10-0-29-1.

India: A. R. Uthappa c Ramdin b Wavell Hinds 0; V. Sehwag c Gayle b Taylor 95; M. S. Dhoni b Wavell Hinds 14; R. Dravid (run out) 18; Yuvraj Singh b Mohammed 26; M. Kaif c Gayle b Taylor 12; S. K. Raina c Ramdin b Taylor 2; A. B. Agarkar c Smith b Gayle 21; Harbhajan Singh c sub b Mohammed 26; M. M. Patel c Chattergoon b Mohammed 0; S. Sreesanth (not out) 2; Extras (lb-4, w-14, nb-2) 20; Total (in 48 overs) 236.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-26, 3-73, 4-130, 5-170, 6-180, 7-189, 8-230, 9-231.

West Indies bowling: Wavell Hinds 5-0-28-2; Taylor 10-0-48-3; Mohammed 9-1-39-3; Dwayne Smith 5-0-28-0; Bravo 9-0-45-0; Gayle 10-0-44-1.