For a bloke so laid back he is positively comatose, Chris Gayle has a sharp eye for the main chance.
With India three down and unlikely to indulge in bravado, the West Indies captain was quick to bring rush through some overs of Kieron Pollard’s medium pace, his own ‘yorking spin from three steps’, and Suleiman Benn’s measured left arm spin.
It was the kind of bowling that, if they were standing on a firm platform, the Indians would have enjoyed going after – but a spell of electrifyingly quick bowling put the skids on that early on. Rohit Sharma had in the second over pulled off one pull to a Fidel Edwards express delivery timed a tick over 149k; the bowler cranked it up a bit more and put a little more shoulder into the next one and hurried the right hander as he tried for an encore.
I’ve been rooting for Suresh Raina to come in at three; watching him bat, I was reminded of that thing someone said about the gods punishing you by answering your prayers [though why the gods needed to take it out on Raina for anything I may have written on my blog, I don’t know]. On the day, the left hander seemed a touch bewildered by the sheer pace off the ball off the deck and distinctly unsettled by the shorter, lifting deliveries. West Indies bowlers – even Windies bowlers of this decade – don’t need a second invitation to try the three-card trick. Sure enough, the fuller length ball came along and as surely, Raina hung his bat out for Dinesh Ramdin to dive almost to Chris Gayle’s feet to pull off a great catch.
Against Gambhir, it was the other way round – fuller length denying room, then the inviting shorter one from Dwayne Bravo. Gambhir bit; Lendl Simmons ran back from square leg, watching the ball come over his shoulder and drop in front of him, and timed a headlong grab to perfection – a very good example of outfield catching.
Dhoni’s re-configured style of play has some utility in one-dayers in context of the rest of the shot-happy lineup, but in this version of the game and particularly in this tournament, he has looked horribly out of sorts. Fair enough, bad spells come to everyone – but Dhoni’s particular nightmare, in which he has tended to use the bat like a blind man abandoned in an unfamiliar environment, is IMHO not going to go away until he decides the heck with this and reverts to his earlier style of play.
Actually, bite my tongue. The one authentic shot Dhoni did play today got him out – a hard cut at a ball short and outside off from Bravo, that failed to beat Fletcher at deep backward point.
Yusuf Pathan walked out, and then they threw the game they were playing till then into the rubbish bin and played a different one.
Fletcher got his hands to a Yuvraj flick after a sprint to his left at deep backward square, but couldn’t hold on; his throw almost managed to run out Yusuf, but that didn’t work either. And then the two batsmen took the game away. Yuvraj’s slog sweep off Benn in the 14th over was the call to arms; a wristy flick to a full ball on middle got him four in the next over off Bravo, and then Pathan guided a four off Bravo, and followed it up with a more characteristic thump over long on for six.
Yuvraj by then had his juices flowing – a deflection through slips, a top edged pull that got him a brace behind the keeper, and then the shot of this or any recent match — a dainty late twirl of the bottom hand to pick a ball off his toes and flick it, against all laws of physics and geometry both, over midwicket.
Yuvraj was 28 off 26 when Dhoni got out; the next 15 balls produced 39 runs. Each time he does this, each occasion that he bails India out with scarcely credible hitting, you keep thinking damn, the law of averages has to find him out soon — but along comes the next game and he does it again, tapping a seemingly endless vein especially in this form of the game. Maybe it frees his mind to know he doesn’t have to pace an innings; maybe this suits his attention span; maybe it’s just a case of the right horse for the short course — whatever; it’s fun, and long may it last.
The two Pathans leaving back to back in the final over threatened to dampen the cruise, but Harbhajan finished things off in style with three consecutive fours, including a fair rival to Yuvraj’s shot of the match: a square drive off a yorker length ball on middle stump.
Three batsmen falling to the hook/pull and at least one other nearly emulating that example was the real story of the Indian innings: the wicket had real pace and so did the bowlers; that and bounce proved an unfamiliar and daunting mix for a young lineup that hasn’t had to confront anything akin in quite a while.
As I write this, the West Indies chase has begun, with the early wicket of Fletcher to Yuvraj Singh — but I have some traveling to do, and will likely be back on here only late tomorrow afternoon. Enjoy the chase — the Windies have the slightest edge, but this game could still throw up a surprise or three.
PS: If India wins this, which is not exactly the option attracting the best odds as I write this, it can go to bed feeling a tad happier — because it will not then need to go into its last game of the Super Eights against South Africa needing to win to nail its last four berth.