Calculative batting gives India unassailable lead

During many junctures of the game, it looked like the Indian batsmen took us back to the pre-2000 era, where batsmen would go through the grind during the middle overs and look to finish beyond a score of 250. The pitch in North Sound was a rough terrain to veer on. The Indians assessed the difficulty level of the pitch early on, and ensured that they didn’t lose too many wickets to get the 100 runs they scored in the final 10 overs that took them to 251. This effort glued with the impeccable performance by their spinners, gave India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the ODI series against West Indies, with two more ODIs to play.

The rain followed Team India in Antigua too, as it rained heavily overnight and the start was delayed yet again. After 45 minutes, the match eventually started after Jason Holder won the toss and opted to field, letting India bat on the third consecutive occasion. The hosts made two changes to their line-up, bringing in two debutants, Kesrick Williams and Kyle Hope into their playing XI. India, on the other hand, were unchanged and didn’t disturb their winning combination.

West Indies struck early as they dismissed the in-form opener, Shikhar Dhawan for a single-digit score, something no other team could manage in his last nine ODI innings. Miguel Cummins bowled a short of a length delivery and Dhawan tried to go for the upper cut but only managed to get an edge to the keeper behind. Another in-form batsman, Virat Kohli came in at number and this time around he didn’t disturb the scorers much. The fielding has to be credited for the Kohli dismissal, as Kyle Hope took a stunner to remove the Indian skipper. Kohli tried to guide a back of a length delivery by Holder but it went towards the debutant who took a magnificent catch and India were in early trouble.

Yuvraj Singh and Ajinkya Rahane led the recovery with a gritty partnership of 66 runs. The wicket wasn’t an easy one to bat on and the West Indian bowlers kept it tight. The Indian batsmen had to work hard for runs and weren’t able to find the boundaries. Devendra Bishoo, who was bowling really well, got the breakthrough for the hosts when Yuvraj Singh got out LBW. The on-field call was not out but West Indies knew they had their man, and they took a review. Replays confirmed it was pad first and it was pitching just in line when Yuvraj tried to defend hesitantly. The Hawk-Eye confirmed that the ball would have hit the off stump and Yuvraj had to depart as the decision was overturned.

Ajinkya Rahane continued to fight though and the opener brought up his hard-fought fifty. He took his time and respected the bowlers on a sticky surface. The opener and MS Dhoni shared a crucial 70-run stand. However, there were a few chances that the West Indians spilled. Two of them were presented by Dhoni in the 39th over which went begging as West Indies failed to grab them. In the third ball of that over, Dhoni went for a slog and miscued the ball high up in the air and it landed between the two fielders near mid-on. On the fifth ball of the same over, Dhoni stepped out and played across the line but the ball went off a thick outside edge towards backward point where Kyle Hope dropped a slightly difficult catch, which should have been taken at the international level.

India looked to up the ante and Rahane went for a big shot in the 43rd over, but played it towards deep point, where Bishoo took a magnificent catch to dismiss the set batsman. Cummins had another wicket and India needed to finish off on a high. Kedar Jadhav was sent in and Dhoni started to accelerate. The former Indian skipper went after the bowlers and was dealing in boundaries soon after. He scored 17 runs off the 47th over when he took on Jason Holder. He hit two back-to-back sixes, showing his power when it comes to clean striking. In the process, Dhoni went past Adam Gilchrist in the list of top run-getters among wicket-keepers in ODIs. Kedar Jadhav joined the party with some delightful strokes such as the sweeps off the quicks, and India were scoring runs at a fair clip towards the end. The duo batted sensibly and took calculative risks. Team India scored 100 runs off the last ten overs and got to a very competitive total in the end under testing conditions.

The bowlers had their tail up early on in the chase. In the previous game, it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who picked a wicket in his first over, while in this ODI, it was Umesh Yadav who received the honour. He bowled a lovely in-dipper that skidded on and Lewis had no time or balance to get behind the ball, as his off stump got pegged back. Brothers Kyle and Shai Hope were united at the crease, but the Windies couldn’t send the ball to the ropes even once in the first six overs. It was only in the seventh over that they found the first boundary. Both the brothers picked up a boundary apiece of Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the over to break the shackles slightly.

It was Hardik Pandya who broke the budding partnership between the two Hopes. Kyle Hope took on a short delivery and looked to hook it out of the park. However, a top edge resulted in the ball finding Jadhav, well inside the fence. In the very next over, Kuldeep Yadav packed Chase back to the pavilions with a peach of a delivery. Yadav bowled the wrong ‘un and deceived Chase completely who looked to swing across the line, only to find his off stump shaken.

Hardik Pandya couldn’t get a bat today, but he was bowling quite well and hit the helpful pitch hard. He claimed his second wicket, that of the other Hope. Shai received a feisty bouncer from Hardik and tried to do what his brother failed to. However, he couldn’t get any distance on the hook, as the edge took the ball on to his helmet and lobbed back to Hardik, who took a simple catch. West Indies were reeling with their top order completely wiped out.

Jason Mohammed took it upon himself to get the Windies out of the rut and went after Kuldeep in the 18th over. He struck a couple of boundaries with some smart shots. Ravichandran Ashwin, who has had a quiet series joined the wickets column in the 20th over. The ball wasn’t all that great, it was a wide, but it was Dhoni’s quick hands that whipped the bails off in time. As Dhoni appealed, Hardik at square leg seemed very positive and was all smiles. The third umpire found Holder’s foot out of the crease and he was adjudged stumped. Ashwin nearly had his second wicket In his next over, when the umpire agreed on the appeal for a caught behind and raised the finger against Powell. The batsman referred it and Snicko couldn’t find any noise or deflection. The umpire’s decision was overturned.

Powell was living dangerously, as he picked up his runs with risky strokes. He edged Umesh Yadav twice in an over to find boundaries behind MS Dhoni. However, he pelted Hardik for two powerful fours, showing signs that he had probably settled in. Those strokes were perhaps just an aberration, as he tried to take Kuldeep on, but holed out at md-wicket where Hardik completed the catch. In the next over itself, new batsman Ashley Nurse looked to force the issue and slogged across the line. A mistimed hit went to the left of Umesh Yadav at square leg and he took a fine diving catch to get West Indies’ seventh wicket.

Jason Mohammed had played a gritty knock while wickets fell at the other end. He was on 40 when he chose to take a risk against Kuldeep, one that would bring an end to his innings. Mohammed went for the sweep off a very full delivery and the ball hit him full, on his pad. The umpire gave it out, and Mohammed reviewed the decision. However, there was no getting away from the error he committed and the decision stayed. India had hit the final nail on the coffin. Ashwin and Kuldeep picked up the remaining two wickets to wrap the Windies’ innings up for just 158.

It was another comprehensive victory for India, as they beat West Indies by 93 runs after scoring 251. The Indian batsmen were put under some early pressure, but the middle order along with Rahane proved their worth and put all criticism to rest. Dhoni once again showed why he can be relied upon and that he is still one of the best finishers of an innings, around in limited overs cricket. The bowling unit tested the Windies batsmen one more time and found ways to pick up wickets regularly. India have attained an unassailable lead in the series, and the best West Indies can do from here is to tie the series at 2-2, by winning the remaining two ODIs. The fourth ODI will be played on the same venue, on Sunday, 2nd July.

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