Brian Lara couldn’t have scripted it better himself, a twinkle toed match winning knock in the fourth game at his home town, Port of Spain, Trinidad, to seal the series and a comprehensive victory in the fifth game to bookmark his final one day international at his home ground. Taking on the captaincy till the World Cup seemed to be a fitting swansong for Lara but after a dispiriting performance under Shivnarine Chanderpaul nobody would have expected such a quick turnaround in the West Indian team. Lara showed that nobody knows the Caribbean side’s strengths better than him. He masterfully maneuvered his bowlers to contain India’s free flowing batsmen, who were unable to adapt to the conditions. Lara’s captaincy was a revelation as he turned to his spinners to put a strangle hold on India. In the end, he even brought on the young left arm chinaman bowler, Dave Mohammed, to bamboozle the perplexed Indians. While Dravid’s team looked stale and lacking in strategy, Lara’s team looked fresh and innovative. A 4-1 triumph over an Indian team that had just thrashed Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England is a tremendous performance and is a tribute to the cricketing brain of this great batsman.
After the patchy first game, the West Indies have been outstanding in the field, improving with every match whereas the Indian fielding has progressively deteriorated. In the must win fourth ODI, India got off to a poor start when Gayle plucked a good catch to send back a dangerous looking Sehwag. Suresh Raina fluffed his chance up the order once more, and also played an atrocious shot in the final game after being sent back down the order, to conclude a horrible tour. Yuvraj Singh, who was back in the side after making a recovery from back spasms, quickly highlighted that he is the rock around which the Indian middle order is built by initiating a recovery with Mohammad Kaif in the fourth ODI. But, neither of them kicked on past their fifties and Dwayne Bravo was the outstanding bowler at the death once again. India finished about 20 runs short in spite of Dhoni’s efforts. Chris Gayle got the Windies off to a rollicking start again, and set the stage for the Brian Lara masterpiece that inspired and kickstarted Bravo’s batting in the last two games. Lara used his feet beautifully to both Powar and Harbhajan and treated everyone to a masterclass on how to play spin bowling.
Dravid’s decision not to open the bowling with Ajit Agarkar when the Windies were chaising in the fourth ODI was one of the mysteries of the series. Agarkar was India’s best bowler in the one day series and when he was belatedly brought in to the attack he immediately picked up the wicket of Sarwan. In the final game, Agarkar got the early break through with a beautiful delivery to the left handed Chattergoon, who left a ball pitched outside his off stump only to see it swing back and clip the top of the off stump. Agarkar was duly rewarded for his consistent performance in the series by not being included in the Test side. Apparently the selectors have categorized him as a one day player only, and categorization is an erroneous way to pick a team.
Sehwag looked like he would salvage some pride for the Indians with a powerful knock in the final game, but he found that nobody was willing to partner him. The alarming collapse was that of team with a morbid air of defeat suffocating them as the West Indies did to India what the Indians had previously done to its opponents.
India came in to the series as the favorites, but with only one practice match the undercooked Indian side got thrashed. The momentum is now with the West Indies and they are definitely favorites to win the Test series. Perhaps, the Indians are more comfortable with the underdog tag but with only a 2-day match as preparation before the Test series starting on June 2nd, it will take some doing to purge the stench of defeat and recover from the Turmoil in Trini.