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World Cup 2011 – India vs West Indies: Yuvraj Ton Powers India’s Win Over Windies

By on March 20, 2011

India 268 (Yuvraj 113, Kohli 59, Rampaul 5-51) beat West Indies 188 (Smith 81, Sarwan 39, Zaheer 3-26) by 80 runs…

See if this script seems familiar: One of the top four batsmen gets into the zone and plays out of his skin; at least one other puts his hand up for a best supporting actor nomination; the batting side cruises past the 30-over mark and looks set for a humongous score; one of the set batsmen falls and, like the nursery rhyme goes, they all fall down.

The script should surely be familiar to fans who have seen India go from 305/4 to 338 all out against England; from 268/3 to 296 all out against South Africa and, today, from 212/3 after 40 overs to 268 all out within the distance.

The last time this happened, skipper MS Dhoni had cuttingly remarked that batsmen needed to play for the team, not the crowd. Cricket has a way of coming back to bite you in the butt, and it happened today when Dhoni himself made a mess of an attempt to go down the track and helicopter Devendra Bishoo out of Chennai – the stumping that resulted triggered the all too familiar slide.

Badly as India messed up its batting in the final few overs, credit where due, Ravi Rampaul in particular, and Andre Russell some of the time, bowled superbly on a Chennai center pitch so rolled and sheltered from the elements that it offered spongy bounce. Both bowlers had at the start been so seduced by the spongy bounce that they overdid the short stuff, but in their final spell they bowled the full length, with a modicum of reverse, aiming constantly for the base of the stumps and ensuring that the tail end of the Indian innings yorked itself.

Amidst the ruins, two batsmen stood out. One was Virat Kohli, who came in to bat before the Chennai crowd had settled down, thanks to a brute of a bouncer that Sachin Tendulkar, for all his years and skill, couldn’t evade. The ball touched something as it careened through; the umpire didn’t see it but Sachin apparently felt it, for even as the official was shaking his head in negative response to the appeal, Sachin turned and walked through the stunned silence.

Kohli, getting his favored spot up the order back, settled into the kind of innings he builds so well – full of intelligent placements and sure calling and running, and punctuated by the occasional creamy strokes, mostly through the cover region, against pace and spin alike. Almost throughout his knock, his intent was to turn the strike over to his partner as quickly, and as often, as he could invent ways of doing it.

At the other end, Yuvraj started off a touch edgy particularly against pace, survived a chance when Sammy dropped him at backward point after he was squared up and found out by a Russell bouncer, but once he shook the fidgets out of his system, he remembered who he was in his prime and turned the clock back with a display as close to his best as we will likely ever see. It had everything – effortless drives characterized by immaculate timing; powerful pulls when the bowlers, particularly of the slow and/or spinning variety, dropped short…

His fitness – or lack thereof – no longer permits him to be the electric heeled runner between wickets that he was at his peak (in my book, it was when he combined with Kaif that India finally woke to the value of singles). But when he is on song, he has ability touched with that streak of genius, that allows him to convert almost any delivery into a hittable one, and he does that every time he seems in danger of slipping into a rut.

It was not the easiest knock to play on a two-faced wicket – and to add to the problems posed by the wicket, the Chennai heat and his own avoirdupois made the last quarter of his innings a labored affair, punctuated by a couple of periods of collapse, and one barf at the side of the wicket.

But he soldiered on, and India looked good for a 320-plus score as long as he and Kohli built the innings through the middle phase. But then came the first of Darren Sammy’s good bowling calls – bringing Rampaul on in the 31st over, to take advantage of any reverse before the ball change. Raina got one that darted back in after swinging late; it didn’t help that the youngster, till then all grace, aimed an ugly slog at it. Net result, the off stump went back – and India’s troubles started.

Among the many mishaps that led to wickets, there was one that went under the collective radar – the power play.

Logic dictated its taking after 35 overs. Kohli and Yuvraj were set and batting smoothly; what they needed was the trigger to begin the acceleration and set it up for the much vaunted big hitters. But then Kohli got out, and the power play was delayed ostensibly so Dhoni could settle in. By the time he did, Yuvraj was close to his hundred, and the PP was delayed again. By the time that landmark was attained, Dhoni had gotten out. And shortly thereafter, Raina. And so on. All of which led to the incongruous situation of the PP being taken, mandatorily, in the 46th over for the likes of Ashwin and Munaf to exploit.

The Windies innings was a patchwork quilt of impressions. There was the sight of MS Dhoni, taking a page from his CSK playbook, tossing the ball to Ashwin for the first over of the innings. The lanky off spinner responded with a tight opening spell that saw him give away just 26 runs in seven overs for one wicket, before Darren Bravo got going.

At the other end, there was the rare sight of Zaheer Khan having an off day; forcing Dhoni to try Harbhajan as early as the 6th over. The senior off spinner, though bowling to attacking fields featuring slip and leg slip, lost his internal radar, sprayed it around, went for 23 and had to be hastily removed.

That set up Ashwin to bowl eight unchanged overs at one end, and for part timers to rotate at the other. It also produced the best period of the chase, when Devon Smith did a Kohli, rolling the strike over so Darren Bravo could dance.

And dance he did. The lad looks so much like Lara it is uncanny – and if his looks bear a striking resemblance, his batting is an even more accurate mirror of the Windies icon: the backlift with full flourish, the extravagant ease with which he hits through lines and creates seemingly impossible angles, an airy insouciance that suggests it is all too easy…

There was magic in the way he twice took on the hitherto tight Ashwin, creaming him for a lordly six over long on, predicting that the spinner would adjust the length next ball, waiting on it and smashing it square.

But then, youth and inexperience took over. Suresh Raina bowled as bad a ball as ever took a wicket: short, flat, outside off, and Bravo overhit it in his exuberance to put the ball down the throat of long on.

From then on, it was an implosion that shaded India’s own effort earlier in the day. At the 30 over mark, the West Indies were 154/2 (India 160/2) and cruising, with Devon Smith anchoring brilliantly. 10 overs later, the Windies had slumped to 179/8, and India was thinking ahead to its quarter final game, next Thursday, against Australia.

The turnaround came with Dhoni borrowing from the Darren Sammy playbook. In the 31st over, he brought back Zaheer Khan for the same reason as the Windies captain – to see if there was any reverse swing to be had, before the mandatory ball change in the 35th over.

There was. Zaheer used it to send a couple to leave the well set Devon Smith. And as he has done with Graeme Smith time out of mind, he then produced the one that landed in the same spot, and darted in late – as with the South African Smith, the West Indian variety was also lured into playing down the wrong line, and his off stump pegged back.

The bigger blow came in the next over when Keiron Pollard had what can only be called an Afridi moment. Without even having had time to settle, he launched an almighty hit at Harbhajan Singh and picked out long on – and that rash wicket opened up the game for Yuvraj to work his magic. A beauty that had flight, loop and sharp turn lured Thomas out and had him stumped; another leg break foxed Russell into aiming a cut at it that put the ball in point’s hands…

Long, painful story short, the West Indies lost its last 8 wickets for 34 runs in the space of 13.3 overs – and lost by a margin of 80 runs with eight overs left unplayed. In other words – they were bad.

On the two-paced Chennai pitch, each innings was neatly divided into two halves. In the first half, run making was relatively easy; in the second half, not. In the final analysis, India played the first half of its innings better, thanks to the Yuvraj-Kohli partnership – and won.

The win will paper over a lot of cracks, and deflect attention from what is now becoming a habitual collapse at the fag end of the innings. India has time between now and Thursday – but on that day, Australia awaits.

On current form, the reigning world champions are vulnerable – but India will need to be at the top of its all round game, for if there is one thing Australia is not, it is forgiving of lapses.

Yahoo Cricket

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