From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.13 :: Mar. 31, 2011
Yuvraj Singh made the most of two reprieves early in his innings to score 113.
The cricketing caravan had reached Chennai after the humdinger in Nagpur where the Indian batting suffered a spectacular collapse and the bowling failed at the crunch. And there had been embarrassing fumbles on the field, too.
The home team's qualification was virtually assured but several pieces were still to fall in place. The Indian campaign had been a mixed one; it had to gain tempo. There was no lack of drama leading to the final Group B clash between India and the West Indies.
There were reports of a rift and a consequent showdown between Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the chairman of the selection panel, Krishnamachari Srikkanth. The BCCI quickly rubbished these rumours. Board secretary N. Srinivasan said he was disappointed with such baseless stories during an important campaign for India.
The news on the fitness front was not too encouraging either. Virender Sehwag was a doubtful starter with a swollen right knee. There was much focus on off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. The bowler was yet to get a game in the World Cup and much of the media could not comprehend the reason.
Ashwin was fit and available but was consistently overlooked. There was a belief, not without reason, that the bowling would have a more incisive look to it with the inclusion of Ashwin. Could he make the difference by excelling in the Power Plays?
There were also indications that the left-handed Suresh Raina might receive a look-in. He could be forceful down the order, send down useful off-spin and lift the levels of fielding.
Meanwhile, the West Indies had discovered ways to lose from a winning position at Chepauk to hand England a lifeline in the competition. To make matters worse, the explosive Chris Gayle was grappling with injury.
The ball continued to spin on the surface at the M.A. Chidambram Stadium. The pitch, indeed, had been spicy. And the security was tight with the Special Forces making an appearance. There was a lot riding on the game. The verdict of the final league match would make the quarterfinal line-up clear. With Bangladesh brushed aside by South Africa in Mirpur, both India and the West Indies had sealed their places in the last eight stage. But then, the bigger question of who meets whom remained. And a major milestone beckoned.
Maestro Sachin Tendulkar was on the threshold of a historic 100th international hundred. Chepauk awaited a remarkable landmark from the legend. In the event, Tendulkar walked after a short-pitched delivery in the corridor from Ravi Rampaul flicked the handle of his willow for 'keeper Devon Thomas to hold the catch. It was a sporting gesture before a sportive audience.
Playing only because spearhead Kemar Roach was rested, Rampaul employed his shoulder and wrist effectively to extract bounce from the track. In the later stages, he reverse swung the ball to end up with five wickets. It was his maiden World Cup game.
Yuvraj Singh made his World Cup debut way back in 2003 but notched up his first century in the competition only this time. The southpaw is growing in confidence, making all the right moves. The left-hander was reprieved twice early by the West Indian captain, Darren Sammy, but made the Caribbeans pay.
Yuvraj has come through tough times and seems wiser for the experience. He has brought about greater solidity to his game without losing flair. This can be a hard act. His shot selection has improved. When there was an error in length, he was quick on the cut and the pull. He does pick the length of the ball in a jiffy. The left-hander also got to the pitch of the ball against the spinners — leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo was impressive in parts — and essayed a few handsome drives on both sides of the wicket.
Yuvraj also made optimum use of batting at No. 4. Sehwag was rested and this meant Gautam Gambhir opened with Tendulkar. Virat Kohli was pushed up to the No. 3 slot and Yuvraj followed him.
Having more space and overs to construct an innings, Yuvraj grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was a satisfying moment for him when he reached the three-figure mark.
The compact Kohli contributed a half-century but there was little else in the Indian batting as it once again lost the plot in the end overs, including the batting Powerplay, to be bowled out for 268.
Dhoni was right in giving Ashwin the new ball under the lights. The Indian bowling had a quality in the early overs that had been missing for most part of the tournament — control.
Without Gayle, the West Indians were a lesser threat. Opener Devon Smith made a sparkling 81 of cuts and pulls but the rest of the batsmen disappointed as Zaheer Khan combined effectively with the spinners. Man of the Match Yuvraj struck a century and as an evolving left-arm spinner, scalped two.
Eventually, the West Indies fell short by a mile.
India 268 in 49.1 overs (Yuvraj Singh 113, V. Kohli 59, R. Rampaul 5 for 51) beat West Indies 188 in 43 overs (D. Smith 81, R. Sarwan 39, Zaheer Khan 3 for 26).
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