Windies restores pride

Inspired performances from Kemar Roach, Andre Russell and Darren Bravo in the last two ODIs helped West Indies gain pride and confidence ahead of the Test series against India. Over to S. Dinakar.

In Antigua, an inspired Kemar Roach and Andre Russell opened up the Indian batting with some well-directed short-pitched bowling. Then, in Kingston, Darren Bravo's bludgeoning blows — the left-hander struck an incredible six sixes — at the death paved the way for yet another West Indian victory.

At the receiving end in the first three ODIs, the host salvaged some pride with emphatic wins in the last two games of the five-match series. At the end of it all, a scoreline of 3-2 appeared more respectable.

The West Indies outplayed India by 103 runs in the fourth game and the victory margin in the last was seven wickets.

Importantly, the two final games were played on pitches with bounce and carry. The ball flew off the surface and a few technical chinks in the young Indian batsmen's game came to the fore.

The surface for the fourth match at North Sound, in particular, offered plenty of encouragement for the pacemen. The ball hurried on to the bat and there was seam movement and bounce. Under the circumstances, India's capitulation to 146 all out — the side was chasing 249 — was disappointing and would give the team think-tank a few sleepless nights.

While there is much talk about the depth in Indian cricket, it is critical that the young players prove their worth when the conditions are against them. At North Sound, the Indians were clearly undone by some hostile fast bowling from Roach and Russell. Pegged back by the short-stuff, their feet movement was disrupted. Consequently, when the ball was pitched up, the batsmen were caught at the crease. The batting lacked character.

Only Rohit Sharma (39) showed a willingness to get behind the line of the ball. However, it would not be right to arrive at a judgment too soon about some of the emerging cricketer's potential. It was also intriguing why Manoj Tiwary was thrust into the role of an opener. Even if the logic of giving him a game in the series cannot be faulted, the decision to send him at the top of the order lacked cricketing sense.

Opening the innings is a specialist role, particularly on a surface with a bit of juice in it. India should have retained Shikhar Dhawan — more due to a lack of choice in the squad — and pushed Tiwary lower down the order. In the event, Tiwary was barely able to put bat to ball and his futile struggle sent the wrong signals to the rest of the batsmen.

Earlier, the West Indies had done well to notch up 249 for eight with Lendl Simmons once again underlining his promise with a well-compiled 67. The right-handed opener bats with a fair measure of flair and solidity and does use his feet.

Kieron Pollard finally produced a substantial score down the order. The feature of his 72-ball 70 was the ease with which he struck the ball straight or in the `V'. And he was timing the ball rather than attempting to hit it hard.

Russell, the find of the series for the West Indies, biffed a rapid 14-ball 25 and then bowled with energy and purpose. The Indians, as skipper Suresh Raina admitted, attempted to target Anthony Martin and ended up conceding four wickets to the leg-spinner.

Martin, playing on his home ground, is a character who has a way with words. He spoke about “proving a point” to coach Ottis Gibson and then declared, “I hate losing maan. I am not going to lose on my home ground.”

The cricket caravan travelled to the famous Sabina Park for the final ODI. The wicket provided assistance to the pacemen. In the event, India posted a competitive total of 251. Virat Kohli's 94 was clearly the highlight. He is among the better back-footed batsman among India's new breed of cricketers and he did essay the horizontal bat shots — the cuts and the pulls — with panache. A predominantly on-side player when he began his career, Kohli has improved his range of strokes on the off-sides. A few of his drives past cover and point scorched the turf. Kohli (94 off 104 balls) was unlucky to miss a hundred. Coach Duncan Fletcher later called him “the future of Indian cricket.”

Rohit Sharma too could be the one for the future. The smooth-stroking Rohit's 57 was a worthy effort. He got on top of the ball, was poised and balanced as he met the sphere. Considering his influence in the series, Rohit was adjudged Player of the Series. Coach Fletcher said the fact that someone as talented as Rohit was unable to make the Test side indicated the strength and the depth of the Indian team.

“I would love to work with Rohit. I love one-on-one sessions with young cricketers,” added Fletcher.

However, Raina let himself and his team down by ordinary stroke-selection — a slog sweep and an attempted ill adviced heave over the off-side field – in the last two ODIs.

“I played bad shots, had a rush of blood. There are no excuses,” admitted Raina.

Russell, continuing to impress, bowled with control and zest in the end overs to scalp four. The former 100m runner is seizing on his opportunities with the quickness of a sprinter.

The West Indies planned its chase capably. The experienced Ramnaresh Sarwan laid the foundation with a solid innings of 75 before retiring hurt due to cramps. Then, the left-handed Darren Bravo, after taking his time to settle down, exploded at the finish, with some spectacular hitting that left the Indians following the flight of the ball. Bravo's 99-ball 86 might prove a path-breaking innings for him.

Then, Marlon Samuels and Pollard finished things off. Despite going down in the series, the West Indies finished on a high ahead of the Test series. The young Indian team deserves credit for clinching the series. Yet, there were areas where it came up short.

THE SCORES 5th ODI, Kingston, Jamaica

India 251 all out in 48.4 overs (V. Kohli 94, R. Sharma 57, A Russell four for 35) lost to West Indies 255 for three in 50 overs (D. Bravo 86, R. Sarwan 75* retd).

4th ODI, Antigua

West Indies 249 for eight in 50 overs (K. Pollard 70, L. Simmons 67, C. Baugh 39, P. Kumar three for 37) beat India 146 (R. Sharma 39, A. Martin four for 36, A. Russell three for 16).