May 31 , 2006
A time for reversal
It had to end some day. A feat, that even the mighty Aussies haven't been able to register under their name, has finally found its home back in the square one. The young 'uns under the baton of The Wall accepted one mighty challenge after another against teams of good repute, and recorded a winning tune 17 times in a row - quite a remarkable feat in the modern era of the one-day cricket. And the way it ended will also remain memorable - 2 runs required in as many deliveries, last batting pair at the crease, a batsmen who was firmly set facing the ball, the entire stadium on the edge of its seats - the adrenalines, the blood-pressures and the pulse rates all in a game of upmanship of their own - it could not have gone down any better. As the losing captain clarified in the post-match conference later, it [the falling of the record] was not a question of whether, but just a matter of when. So, the when happened in the second one day in the series setting up what would be a see-saw between two teams - one that has reached the peak of its performance in the various match ups running up to this series and the other tottering at the bottom of the table, sharing the honors with minnows and minions of the cricketing world. And then the unthinkable happened. The tables have turned, the fortunes have reversed and the see-saw tilted in favor of the other side. What was written off by one and all, pundits and public alike, that the series would go a 4-1 or 5-0 in favor of the favorites, did in fact go 4-1, but in the other direction. Prides humbled, records tumbled and normalcy was restored. It has been an all or nothing deal with the Indians in the past few series and as records would have it, it ended up on the nothing side this time.
West Indies have a way of humbling the Indians time and again, particularly in the shorter version of the game. When they toured the country last, four years ago, the Indians were almost invincible on home turf - flat pitches, sweltering heat, intimidating crowds and a formidable batting line up - only to find themselves at the receiving end of equally strong and quite resilient West Indies batting and their controlled and measured bowling perfomances, by the end of the tour. The result was a 4-3 that time in favor of the Windies. Hindsight offers history a great way of measuring up the performances of the teams against each other through the way of recording the ups and downs in the series - the great partnerships, the spurts of brilliant bowling, the agile fielding and the ability to hold on the nerve in tense situations. If these were indeed the yardstick by which the team is rated, then West Indies does certainly (and should) rank above the Indians, at least in the one-dayers, the ICC charts' standings and ratings notwithstanding. Facts be told, Indians, who had been running through a purple patch as far as records and rankings are concerned in the one-dayers, amassed all that solely under the sub-continental conditions. 6-1 against Sri Lanka in India, 2-2 against South Africa in India, 4-1 against Pakistan in Pakistan, 5-1 against England in India, 1-1 against Pakistan in Abu Dabhi - the team has never left the shores for greener pastures and bouncy pitches and the conditions have been quite conducive to the Indian style of play and their temperaments. Though it is not to imply that conditions alone contributed to the success of the team, but realising the fact that they played a great part in those results would help looking at that record in a different light.
Though the 4-1 rubber does not quite shed the light on how almost all the games were played down to the wire, to either the last ball or the last over or the last wicket of the match, to the point that the result would have read 3-2 in favor of the Indians, it could certainly be argued that Windies would have sealed the series 5-0 too, had Kaif not hit the boundary in the first match to give them their lone win. The series never played out as it was meant to be, right from the start. While the first match showed the inexperience of a young Windies squad fumbling and bumling in the field like an amateur cricket club, dropping comfortable catches, misfielding at the drop of the hat, missing the wickets by miles, the Indians wrested that honor from the Windies in the subsequent outings, upping the ante with even more slipshod display on the field, unable to fire as a single unit, both in the bowling and the batting departments, looking completely lost even before losing the match, calling all the records set in the previous months into serious question. More baffling was the fact that the conditions in Caribbean weren't all that foreign - the pitches were slow, the tracks weren't bouncy, the weather was hot and humid and the crowd support was substantial, if not overwhelming. On a man to man comparison of the two sides, the West Indies looked like a mirror reflection of the Indian side - strong batting, mediocre bowling and just a shade above/below par (depending on the day) as far as the fielding was concerned. With similar strengths (and weaknesses), it was quite commendable of the hosts to have swept aside a side that was five places above it in the ICC table and ranked only next to the Aussies and the South Africans.
The series was a certain shot in the arm to the struggling Windies side, weakened in the past few months (if not years) with everything from politics to contract deals, from sponsorships to just bad performances. It definitely showcased the captaincy of Lara, right from the first match when everything was going against him, particularly the fielding, and he still made a match out of it, simply by calling the shots right and moving the troops accordingly, down to the final one, when he allowed his bat to speak for his prowess. With the World Cup only a few months away, and the venues promised to play out much like how they did in the just concluded rubber, it should be a great boost to the morale and confidence of the team to put up the performances day after day like how they just did and put to shame the records and reputations of a top team. And then there is India... Off day, off series, out of office? All the experiments with the batting order that paid rich dividends only a month ago now looked completely off color. But for a brilliant innings here and there, the batting just didn't click, a problem that was compounded by the bowling that was just too ordinary to make any real dent in the opposition. India's primary strength lies with the bat and only when the right numbers start showing up in that category, does the team find itself in a position to contend, with its otherwise weak bowling department and an above average fielding unit. Now that, the one day series is done away with and the record reads abysmal, it is not too farfetched to entertain healthy thoughts about a good performance by the Indians in the tests, considering how it has been an either/or vis-à-vis tests and one-days. Now, that is wishful thinking, going by the record that the Indians have yet to win a test series in the Caribbean since the past few decades. But then, going by the record, the series should had read 4-1 in favor of Indians!
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