After two lop-sided one-day internationals, the four-match ODI series finally came alive in the third match at the Beausejour Stadium, St Lucia when India sneaked home off the penultimate ball of the match.
Set a target of 159, which was worked out using the Duckworth and Lewis system, India was cruising when their openers were out in the middle. Gautam Gambhir, and Dinesh Karthik (47 from 43 balls), who was especially fluent and impressive, gave the team a great platform by adding 84 runs for the opening wicket.
From 84 for no loss, India suddenly lost way and was reduced to 117 for 3 – with the two openers and Yuvraj Singh back in the hutch.
However, captain MS Dhoni, who has been outstanding in this series, ensured – unlike in the match against England in the ICC World T20 – that his team would not stutter at the final hurdle and steered India past the target to take an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series.
With the confidence of two good outings behind him, Dhoni walked out to bat at the crucial number three position so he could take charge of the run-chase.
But the wickets of Gambhir (44) and Yuvraj Singh (2) in quick succession did not allow the Indian skipper to go hard at the West Indies bowlers immediately; instead, the emphasis was to keep the scoreboard ticking and stay in the contest, and strike at the opportune moment.
However, that opportunity to charge never really came and the match remained in the balance until the final over. Rohit Sharma (11) too perished in the penultimate over, leaving it to the captain to steer his team past the hurdle.
And didn’t he do it in style? India needed 11 runs off the last over which was reduced to 10 runs off the last five balls after Yusuf Pathan sneaked a leg bye off the first ball. ‘Captain Cool’ Dhoni then dispatched the second ball into the stands beyond the midwicket boundary to put his team back in front.
A couple off the next ball followed by two singles – one by Dhoni himself and the last one by Pathan – meant India had edged past the hosts to win the match. Dhoni’s unbeaten 46 – a calculated and assured knock – was his third important contribution in three innings in this series and it won him a Man of the Match award.
The weather Gods too played a significant part in the drama; India was initially handed a target of 195 from 27 overs, which was further scaled down to 159 from 22 overs after showers held up play for 23 minutes.
Dark clouds continued to hang over the Beausejour Stadium right till the end of the match, but thankfully they did not explode and deprive the few spectators of what turned out to be a thrilling contest.
Earlier in the day, powered by mature innings by Ramnaresh Sarwan, the West Indies posted a challenging 186 for 7 from their allotted 27 overs.
Dhoni won the toss and decided to give his bowlers the first use of the track. More so considering it was pretty overcast when the captains tossed for the choice of innings. And just before the players were ready to take the field, the heavens opened up and delayed the start of the match by two hours and five minutes.
When the rains relented, Chris Gayle took center stage and pummeled 27 runs off 13 balls. The rains interrupted again – after 3.3 overs – forcing the players back to the dressing room.
‘Comeback-man’ Ashish Nehra dismissed Gayle soon after the players got back onto the field which brought Sarwan to the crease. The Guyanese, who has a special liking for the Indians, was especially severe on any width and crashed three of his five boundaries backward of point.
Despite two more interruptions – at overs 9.1 and 9.3 – he maintained high levels of energy and concentration and was always on the lookout for run-scoring opportunities.
It was on one such occasion when he was keen to convert a single into a couple, that he was beaten by a combination of a good return from the outfield by Gautam Gambhir and some brisk glove work by MS Dhoni. Sarwan consumed 58 balls for his 62 and hit five boundaries and a six before he was run out.
There were several other useful contributions in the West Indies innings as well. Runako Morton followed up his unbeaten 85 in the previous match with 22, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul made 15.
The two Bravo brothers chipped in with useful runs as well; Dwayne made 13 from 19 balls, while Darren only enhanced his reputation during his breezy innings of 21. Denesh Ramdin gave the West Indies innings just the right finish with a breezy 6-ball 14.
Ashish Nehra was the pick of the bowlers for India; he made the most of the overcast conditions and the little assistance in the pitch to finish with figures of 5-1-21-3. Harbhajan Singh was too impressed – despite having to bowl with a wet ball; he used all his variations to return with figures of 2 for 35 from his five overs. Ishant Sharma was disappointing once again – often erring in both line and length.
The part-timers (Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, and Rohit Sharma) too did their job – but conceded perhaps a few more runs than their captain would have liked. Pathan even went on to dismiss Chanderpaul to finish the only other wicket-taker for India.