“Even if we play at our best, we might not win”, said West Indies coach Phil Simmons on the eve of the series-decider in Cuttack. However, one can say that Kieron Pollard’s men pushed the Indian team to their limits without being at their best.
Men in Blue had to resort to the last of their batting resources in order to pull of an emphatic win, despite each one of their big three - Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli firing with the bat. Although, none of them kicked on to score a hundred but Shardul Thakur, along with Ravindra Jadeja, ensured that the Indian team cross the final hurdle in the penultimate over.
West Indies will question their tactics. A slow start by Evin Lewis, generally known for going after the bowlers, followed by Roston Chase’s arrival to the crease at number three raised quite a few eyebrows. There was no parameter of the game that could justify Chase batting ahead of in-form batsmen like Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran, especially with Ravindra Jadeja in the attack. Both Pooran and Hetmyer have dominated Jadeja in white-ball cricket and the visitors’ decision to send Chase above the young southpaws only allowed the left-arm spinner to have one of his better games with the ball in the series.
However, Kieron Pollard and Pooran did make up for the disarrangement. Once they got their eye in, the Trinidadians were tough to restrict. The duo added 135 runs off only 98 balls for the fifth wicket. Pollard launched himself by striking Kuldeep Yadav for back to back sixes in the 37th over of the innings. Pooran took the charge later taking the Indian bowlers to cleaners. His straight hit charging down the track against the pace of Navdeep Saini was one of the most sumptuous strokes of the game which witnessed 15 maximums in total.
West Indies accounted for 12 of them becoming the first side to hit over 200 ODI sixes in a calendar year. Indian bowlers conceded over 100 runs in the death for the first time in 2019.
However, the debutant Saini was the pick of the bowlers in the match. He dismissed a well set Roston Chase with a ferocious yorker that went through the right-hander’s defence. However, even he could not escape the power of Pollard and the sublime timing of Pooran ending his day with two for 58 in his 10 overs.
But if there is any side in the world that can chase down a 300-plus total in a pressure game, then it is India. Rohit and Rahul continued from they left in Visakhapatnam. The duo notched up their fifth 100-run stand in only the 10th game while opening together in ODIs.
For long, it seemed like the old template of India chasing down a 300-plus total with most of the burden shared among the top three batsman. But the bubble busted when both Rohit and Rahul failed to convert their fifties into a triple-digit score. Rohit was the first man to depart at the total of 122 for 63. Rahul was hurried by a back-of-a-length delivery from Alzarri Joseph.
Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant failed to pile up on their good scores in the first two games. Kedar Jadhav too could not support his captain putting all the onus on Kohli. India slumped to five for 228 with 88 runs needed at the required run-rate hovering around eight.
Jadeja displayed why he is preferred over Yuzvendra Chahal in the side by putting his down forging a critical 58-run partnership with Kohli. The Indian skipper seemed unperturbed with the middle-order collapse around in his knock of 85 off 81 balls.
His dismissal in the 47th over sent a bout of jitters in the Indian camp. After taking the pressure off Kohli in the 58-run stand, Jadeja found a helping in an unlikely IPL teammate. Not a muck with the bat, Shardul Thakur displayed his batting abilities by knocking off the recently-turned-millionaire, Sheldon Cottrell for 10 runs in successive deliveries. The 48th over of the innings, bowled by Cottrell, saw 15 runs putting the home side in a comfortable position of only seven runs away from the target. Jadeja knocked off the deficit ending with a crucial knock of 39 not out from 31 balls.
However, the most bizarre moment of the game was yet to come. With the scores levelled, a run out appeal against Thakur at the striker’s end was sent upstairs only to hold no relevance. Before acknowledging the run out appeal, Paul’s delivery was adjudged as a overstepping no-ball by the third umpire handing the match and the series to India.
The moment verified that West Indies were not at their best - both tactically and on the field - yet they tested India. The victory capped off a fantastic year for India in ODI cricket. They did not lift the World Cup but the win today took India win percentage to 70.5 this year - the highest amongst all ODI nations.
Virat Kohli was adjudged man-of-the-match while Rohit Sharma won the man-of-the-series award.