It boils down to experience

SANJAY RAJAN

Yuvaraj Singh.-V.V. KRISHNAN

"I was definitely surprised. I thought at six down for 112 — not that we took it easy — we had them pinned down," said Rahul Dravid about West Indies' late surge in the must-win concluding league match of the IndianOil Cup tri-series at the Premadasa Stadium on August 7.

"We knew (Runako) Morton (84) could bat — he hadn't really batted well in the tournament though — and (Denesh) Ramdin (74 not out) had looked good in the Test series against Sri Lanka. But, for them to put up such a big partnership (83 off 93 deliveries), especially while chasing (263 for victory), at over six an over, was, you know, very creditable," said the Indian captain, after his side squeaked through by seven runs for a place in the final.

It was for the second straight match that India was allowing the opposition to recover after having them six down. "I was pointing that out to the guys. I mean it is something to watch out. We are letting the opposition's lower middle-order bat a little too long," said Dravid.

India's brittle top-order — a cause for concern throughout the series — crumbled yet again after the team had opted to bat, as the Men in Blue were left struggling at 51 for three — four down for all practical purposes after paceman Daren Powell forced Sourav Ganguly to retire hurt, striking the left-hander's left arm with a nasty bumper.

India recovered mainly due to the 165-run stand off 177 deliveries by the fourth-wicket pair of Yuvraj Singh (110) and Md. Kaif (83 not out). It reminded you of the partnership the young Turks staged in the 2002 NatWest Series final against England at Lord's, though one must agree that the challenges they faced there and here were different.

Yuvraj had scored just 138 runs in his last eight innings. There was tremendous pressure on the left-hander from Punjab as his last half-century had come during the third ODI against Bangladesh last season, and his last century in a losing cause against Australia in the VB Series in 2003-04.

An influx of fresh talent had also seen the 24-year-old unsettled from his usual position and pushed up the order in a bid to find him newer challenges. Yuvraj batted at No. 3 in the opening match of the tri-series. He was brought back to No. 5 in the second and missed the last match due to viral fever.

Yuvraj had a point to prove, and you could see that he was visibly charged up even as he walked in at the fall of Dravid's wicket. It had been a disastrous start by India, though the leg-before decision handed out to Virender Sehwag by umpire Tyron Wijewardene off left-arm paceman Deighton Butler was doubtful as it hit the opener high on the pad.

The West Indian pacemen, Butler, Daren Powell and Tino Best, came up with incisive first spells.

Yuvraj suffered from a bout of cramps, but scored his third ODI century. The spinners proved to be cannon fodder as Yuvraj and Kaif took the team past the 200-mark by the 45th over. Kaif, who is always quick to find the gaps, and Mahendra Dhoni put on 46 in the last 25 deliveries.

About his effort, Yuvraj said, "Batting at five and six, you don't usually get a chance to score a century. I was happy with my innings, and I was getting a hundred after a long time."

The left-hander had waved his bat vigorously in the direction of the dressing room on reaching the three-figure mark. "Actually I was angry with myself because every time I got a start, I got out. So it was the frustration coming out, that this time I really took it to the end and batted well," he said.

Runako Morton's knock brought West Indies very close to the target.-AP

It was Greg Chappell's 58th birthday and the Indian coach was happy that the day ended on a good note. "We obviously wanted to play in the final. That the top-order was not getting runs is a concern. But then, every game is a different game. And as Yuvraj showed, if you get out there and get started, there is no reason why good players can't get runs," the Australian said.

West Indies fielded Morton, an opening batsman, in the place of an indisposed Shiv Chanderpaul while India made three changes — leg-spinner Anil Kumble, left-arm pacer Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj coming in for off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, paceman L. Balaji and all-rounder Suresh Raina. Sylvester Joseph led the West Indies.

After Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra provided the early break-throughs, Kumble came up with a splendid one-handed catch at mid-off to dismiss left-hander Narsingh Deonarine off Nehra. Kumble, who last played in the fifth ODI against Pakistan in Kanpur, struck thrice to leave the West Indian innings in tatters.

"Anil (Kumble) bowled really well. He finished with three wickets, but it could very easily have been a five-for. When he was operating, we were in total control of the game," said Dravid.

India woefully felt the absence of a fifth regular bowler when Morton and Ramdin put on their stand. Nehra tricked the former with a slower one and Dravid at short-midwicket accepted the offering gleefully. But West Indies, inspired by the young 'keeper-bat, Ramdin, kept its hopes alive, needing 65 from the last 10 overs with three wickets in hand and 48 off the last five overs after off-spinner Sehwag dismissed Best, bowled.

"Yes, the absence of a fifth regular bowler was definitely a problem. We had created a huge amount of pressure, but failed to maintain it. I thought Viru (Sehwag) did a good job, but, obviously our fifth bowler could not create the kind of pressure that Anil did," said Dravid.

Ramdin, who took two boundaries off Nehra in the 48th over, turned on the heat, as West Indies needed 32 off the last 18 deliveries with two wickets in hand. In the same over, Kaif ran out Butler with a direct hit at the non-striker's end from mid-on to take the pressure off the Indians. West Indies needed 12 for victory off the last over, but Nehra withstood the pressure.

The scores

India: V. Sehwag lbw b Butler 6, S. Ganguly (retd hurt) 2, V. V. S. Laxman c Ramdin b D. Powell 7, R. Dravid b Banks 10, Yuvraj Singh c Best b Deonarine 110, M. Kaif (not out) 83, M. Dhoni (not out) 28; Extras (lb-4, nb-3, w-9) 16. Total (for four wkts, 50 overs) 262.

Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-21, 3-51, 4-216.

West Indies bowling: Butler 8-1-30-1, D. Powell 7-2-35-1, Best 7-0-40-0, Banks 10-0-41-1, Smith 10-0-43-0, Deonarine 8-0-69-1.

West Indies: X. Marshall lbw b Pathan 19, R. Morton c Dravid b Nehra 84, S. Joseph c Harbhajan b Pathan 4, N. Deonarine c Kumble b Nehra 6, O. Banks lbw b Kumble 6, D. Smith lbw b Kumble 26, R. Powell c (sub) Venugopala b Kumble 4, D. Ramdin (not out) 74, T. Best b Sehwag 3, D. Butler (run out) 9, D. Powell (not out) 5; Extras (b-2, lb-5, nb-1, w-7) 15. Total (for nine wkts, 50 overs) 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-37, 2-44, 3-59, 4-70, 5-98, 6-112, 7-195, 8-208, 9-240.

India bowling: Pathan 8-1-34-2, Zaheer 10-0-51-0, Nehra 9-0-60-2, Kumble 10-0-38-3, Sehwag 10-0-43-1, Yuvraj 3-0-22-0.