Samuels, Lawson seal India's fate

S. DINAKAR

IT was a series that twisted and turned like a vicious snake, and finally it was the West Indies which stung, and stung hard on a pitch that held no venom.

The triumphant West Indies team.-N. BALAJI

Indeed, Marlon Samuels' whirlwind hundred of rare quality and Jermaine Lawson's scorching burst with the new ball proved fatal for the Indians.

It was the West Indies all the way in the seventh and final ODI at Vijayawada, the Caribbeans emerging victors by 135 runs, a whopping margin in limited overs cricket.

"It has been a tough, hard-fought series. But it was a day when the West Indies played better cricket," said India's stand-in captain Rahul Dravid, as the dust settled on a one-sided encounter in international cricket's latest venue.

For Carl Hooper, the West Indian skipper, the 4-3 verdict in the TVS Cup ODI series, marked a fine comeback by a side that was written off in several quarters. After the disappointments of the Tests, the ODI series did come as a timely boost to the West Indian morale.

Marlon Samuels, who set Vijayawada ablaze, punishes Virender Sehwag.-N. BALAJI

The toss was going to be a vital factor, or so it seemed. On placid tracks, even 300-plus scores were hard to defend as this series showed, with the bowlers having very little margin for error.

And the toss was in focus before the match for the wrong reasons with former West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding claiming in his column that not everything may have been right with the spin of the coin in the sixth ODI at Jodhpur, words that were quickly denied by the match referee Mike Procter and the two captains.

In the end, the toss hardly mattered in Vijayawada, with the West Indians after being inserted, running up an imposing 315, and then the Indians just caving in under all the pressure in what amounted to a Cup final.

It was also a contest where India's bowling lay in tatters after the onslaught by Samuels & Co., and the selectors and the team-management have plenty of work on hand before the biggest cricketing event - the World Cup.

The pacemen Javagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar struck early, snaring the in-form Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. After that, it was all West Indies with the Indian attack coming under heavy artilerry fire with strokes raining in all directions. Samuels produced the innings of the series, but it was the partnership between Wavell Hinds and Ramnaresh Sarwan that really set the tone for a West Indian victory.

The inspired Jermaine Lawson picked up the first four Indian batsmen. Here he sends Dinesh Mongia's off-stump for a walk.-N. BALAJI

Murali Kartik had bowled splendidly in the three earlier games, but in the crucial recovery phase, Hinds and Sarwan did counter him well, the former resorting to the sweep, the latter, using his feet, not allowing the bowler to settle down. And when the left-arm spinner's first three overs yielded 22 runs, prompting Dravid to replace him, the West Indians had won a psychological battle.

Hinds and Sarwan added 116 for the third wicket in 130 balls even as the Indians lost their grip. It was a perform or perish situation for the West Indies, at 16 for two, especially with the explosive Gayle, who had three centuries behind him in the series, back in the pavilion, after mistiming a drive off Srinath to Mohammed Kaif at cover.

Gayle had been a major factor in the West Indians' wins, and the side required another hero or two on this big Sunday.

Well, it was a day when the West Indian youngsters handled the demanding situation remarkably well. After Hinds, playing across to Virender Sehwag's off-spin, was castled for an enterprising 58 (68 balls, 7x4), in walked Samuels, with the Caribbeans at 132 for three.

Then, Sarwan, progressing towards a well-deserved century, chose to a cut an Agarkar delivery not quite short enough for the stroke and was trapped in front. His 102-ball 83 (6x4, 1x6) had been a fine knock, that witnessed his feet and bat moving in cohesion; he indeed is a well-organised, compact batsman with a definite future in big time cricket.

Corey Collymore gets rid of Mohammad Kaif.-N. BALAJI

For the Indians, the trouble had only begun. Ricardo Powell joined Samuels, already stroking the ball like magic, and the two well and truly took the game away from India, in a rollicking 109-run association off just 62 balls; Powell, someone who can strike the ball with awesome power himself, cleverly played second fiddle, after watching Samuels in a murderous mood. After his first 50, Samuels did put his foot on the accelerator.

The 22-year-old Jamaican reached his hundred in just 72 balls, the Windies vaulted past the magic 300-run mark, and the Indian bowling and fielding lay in tatters. Only off-spinner Sarandeep Singh, making it to the XI due to an injury to Harbhajan Singh, bowled a tidy spell, earning the respect of the rampaging West Indians; the Delhi bowler stuck to the basics, an area where the others came up short.

In pursuit of 316, the Indians desperately required a breezy start. However, Jermaine Lawson, selected only 40 minutes ahead of the game, due to a back injury to left-arm paceman Pedro Collins, blew the batsmen away in a blistering spell on a placid track. His burst of 7-0-42-4, that included the prize scalps of Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, and Rahul Dravid, effectively ended the match as a contest. And he did bend his back to extract pace and bounce. However, Sarwan deserved a large measure of credit for Dravid's wicket, displaying lightning reflexes to grab a half-chance at short mid-wicket, even as the Indian skipper flicked with panache. It was a body blow for the home side.

Yuvraj Singh, the lone Indian batsman to breathe defiance, lofts Vasbert Drakes to the fence.-N. BALAJI

When Corey Collymore fired out Mohammed Kaif and Sanjay Bangar to send India reeling at 107 for six, much of the crowd, that had behaved impeccably, began to melt. The left-handed Yuvraj Singh struck some brave blows in his 67-ball 68. However, by now, the Indians were well and truly out of the game. It was the day of the maroons in Vijayawada.

The scores:

West Indies: C. Gayle c Kaif b Srinath 5; W. Hinds b Sehwag 58; S. Chanderpaul c Kartik b Agarkar 6; R. Sarwan lbw b Agarkar 83; M. Samuels (not out) 108; R. Powell st. Dravid b Sehwag 30; C. Hooper c Kaif b Sehwag 13; R. Jacobs (not out) 0. Extras (lb-6, nb-5, w-1) 12. Total (for six wickets in 50 overs) 315.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-16, 3-132, 4-182, 5-291, 6-307.

India bowling: Srinath 9-0-55-1, Agarkar 10-1-56-2, Bangar 5-0-39-0, Kartik 9-0-69-0, Sarandeep 10-0-31-0, Sehwag 7-0-59-3.

India: V. Sehwag c Hooper b Lawson 12; D. Mongia b Lawson 20; V. V. S. Laxman c Jacobs b Lawson 22; R. Dravid c Sarwan b Lawson 3; Y. Singh b Gayle 68; M. Kaif b Collymore 10; S. Bangar lbw b Collymore 2; A. Agarkar c Collymore b Gayle 4; M. Kartik b Gayle 2; S. Singh c (sub) Nagamootoo b Drakes 19; J. Srinath (not out) 3. Extras (b-3, lb-2, nb-1, w-9) 15. Total (in 36.5 overs) 180.

Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-56, 3-59, 4-67, 5-99, 6-107, 7-121, 8-126, 9-158.

West Indies bowling: Drakes 7-0-44-1, Lawson 10-0-57-4, Collymore 7-0-30-2, Hooper 6-0-22-0, Gayle 6.5-0-22-3.

Explosive stuff

IN the pre-match press conference Indian captain Rahul Dravid made a pertinent point about those coming lower down - especially specialist batsmen at No. 5 or 6 - hardly receiving a fair opportunity on placid surfaces of the sub-continent, with the top-order players eating up a majority of the overs. In other words, if a No. 5. had to score a hundred in ODIs, it would have to be a very special effort. Samuels' sensational 74-ball unbeaten 108 at Vijayawada was all that and more. It was a blitzkrieg that shut out the Indians, a knock that will rank among the finest in limited overs cricket.

Actually, the Indians did not quite know what hit them as Samuels unleashed strokes of stunning brilliance, his timing and feet movement impeccable, his composure admirable. There were several astonishing shots in Samuels' believe it or not century, including those rasping straight hits, that made a mockery of the field placements, with the ball speeding to the fence, giving the long-off or the long-on little chance.

When he walked in at 132 for three, after Hinds was dismissed by Sehwag, the contest was in the balance. And with a quick wicket or two, the Indians could have gained control of the game. Instead, the match went out of control for the Indians as Samuels went on the rampage. First he raised 50 for the fourth wicket with Sarwan in a hectic stand, and then added 109 for the fifth with Ricardo Powell off only 62 balls.

"We tried everything, brought in the spinners, the pacemen, but he was timing the ball so well. It was just a brilliant innings," said Dravid later, and indeed Samuels played out of his skin on that Sunday at Vijayawada.

The statistics of his innings are staggering. His first 50 arrived in 49 deliveries - he was scoring at a run-a-ball even as he was playing himself in - before exploding in the climactic stages, consuming just 23 more balls before reaching his maiden ODI hundred.

Among the bowlers to suffer was the experienced paceman Javagal Srinath, whom Samuels dismissed for 21 runs in the 47th over, that included an awesome six over extra-cover, the batsman making room in a jiffy before sending the ball soaring over the fence.

Sanjay Bagar was at the receiving end, too, Samuels plundering him for three successive boundaries, a blistering straight drive standing out.

"You cannot get too much better than that. It has to be right up there with the best innings in one-day cricket," West Indies skipper Carl Hooper, who is normally measured in his praise, said later.

Simply put, the Indians were simply blown out of the contest by Samuels, the Windies rattling up a mind-boggling 121 in the last 10 overs, a phase when the game got away from India.

Samuels celebrated his century in style too, taking out the 'red rag', a present from the Aussie warrior Steve Waugh, and displaying it to the whole arena. With the willow, the Jamaican had been 'red-hot' on this day.

"I played to my strength, that is to hit straight," revealed Samuels, the straight choice for the Man of the Match award. In the decider, he had produced the decisive innings.