The final round robin encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup was a fixture to determine who would finish second and third in Group B. The pitch at the M A Chidambaram Stadium at Chennai was the cynosure of all eyes. In the end two batting collapses were the talking point as India defeated West Indies by a comfortable margin of 80 runs. India will now play defending champions Australia in the last eight while West Indies face formidable Pakistan.
The toss was crucial and was won by India who decided to bat first. With Sehwag absent, Gautam Gambhir reverted to opening the batting with maestro Sachin Tendulkar. The start was bad – Tendulkar got glove to a short delivery from Ravi Rampaul but despite the umpire’s decision of not out, walked. Gambhir and Kohli attacked Sulieman Benn but the run rate was not as heady as in the games against Bangladesh, England or South Africa.
Gambhir was the next to go as he made room and slashed a short delivery straight to the fielder at third man. This brought the in-form Yuvraj Singh to the crease and thus began the most productive phase of the Indian innings. Strike rotation meant singles and twos were the order of the day but there were some delightful boundaries as well. In the 21st over, Yuvraj on drove Darren Sammy for a six over long on and then swept Devendra Bishoo for a four. Yuvraj reached his fifty in the 26th over with two fours off Bishoo while Kohli followed suit in the 29th over with a boundary over midwicket. The batsmen were well set for acceleration in the last 20 overs.
Rampaul was brought back into the attack as West Indies searched for wickets. In the second over of his new spell, Rampaul had Kohli play a pull shot but the ball beat the bat and upset the stumps. It was a vital wicket in the scheme of things for West Indies. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni joined Yuvraj who was now looking good for a century. He duly reached it in the 41st over and India were comfortably placed for a 300 plus total when the now familiar great Indian middle order batting collapse happened.
Bishoo started the slump when he beat Dhoni with a flighted delivery and wicket keeper Devon Thomas completed the stumping. The last seven wickets fell for just 50 runs as India were bowled out for 268 in the first ball of the 50th over. Rampaul picked up his first five-wicket haul in one-day cricket and finished with impressive figures of 5/51. At the break, West Indies fancied their chances even as they realized that they did not have Chris Gayle to lead the chase.
The chase started off slowly as India attacked one end with local boy R Ashwin first and then Harbhajan later. Devon Smith was unflappable as ever and a straight drive for four off Zaheer Khan was a delight to watch. Kirk Edwards, the debutant opener, showed no nerves as he came down the track to loft Harbhajan over the long off boundary for a six. However, Ashwin got the breakthrough for India as he got a ball to pitch on leg, straighten and rap the batsman on the pads in front of middle and leg. Darren Bravo put on a good partnership with Smith who was growing stronger by each minute that he spent at the crease.
Bravo showed glimpses of Brian Lara as he hit a six over long off of Ashwin and followed that up with a ferocious cut shot that sped for four more. Just as the partnership had crossed 50 and was looking good for more, Bravo made a big mess of a short ball from Suresh Raina. That ball was asking to be hit for a six but Bravo made a poor choice by lofting it towards long on where the fielder gleefully accepted the chance. Ramnaresh Sarwan, badly in need of some runs, was the next man in and West Indies calmly chipped away at the target with Smith reaching a well played fifty in the 19th over.
The Indian fielding was now looking weary and was exemplified by Munaf Patel making no attempt to stop a cut shot from Sarwan that was heading to the boundary. Smith accelerated by hitting Yuvraj down the ground for his first six. This partnership too raised fifty runs and at the end of the 30th over West Indies were cruising at 154/2. Zaheer Khan was brought back into the attack and quickly had Smith bowled with a new kind of slower ball that he has mastered. This was followed by Kieron Pollard hitting straight to the fielder at long on in the next over. It was an unnecessary shot at the time and the whole team was dismissed for 188 in the 43rd over. The last eight wickets had fallen for just 34 runs in 13 overs.
For the second time in as many matches, West Indies had the chase on a platter and threw it away with some senseless batting. The pitch was still good and had many more runs in it. The batting collapses of the last two games should be a worry for Darren Sammy as they go to Mirpur to play a strong Pakistan team in the quarter finals. The bowlers did a commendable job in the absence of Kemar Roach and the batting looked solid until that collapse. It would not be a bad idea to bring back Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the next game as he can hold one end up.
India need not rejoice too much at this win. They won only because some of the West Indies batsmen were senseless. With the exception of Zaheer, the bowling looks tardy. The bowlers have failed to get those early breakthroughs which are very crucial. The batsmen should spend long hours in the sun as repeated batting collapses from strong positions cannot be excused. Against the world champions in the quarter finals, the team will have to up their game in all the three departments to entertain any hopes of winning.