As the night wore on and the West Indies inched closer to India’s 268, the crowd here went silent, those that didn’t walked out that is. The atmosphere deadened and it more or less remained that way till Brian Lara, a universal favourite, reached his fifty with a pull and breathed some life into the proceedings.
At that point, several die-hard fanatics put their hands together to applaud an elegant innings from one of cricket’s living legends, with almost the same spirit but — this being India after all — with far less noise than when they’d greeted Sachin Tendulkar’s half-century.
It was a rare day for any cricketing audience anywhere in the world, a day when two of the acknowledged masters of the game shone together but, much to the chagrin of the crowd, the Indian was bested as the West Indies romped home to a three-wicket victory. One that gave them some jitters just before the end with the fall of a couple of quick wickets, including Lara’s, but a comfortable win all the same.
The defeat has thrown the series wide open and has also reinforced certain harsh home truths — one of which is that so close to the World Cup, the Indian batting needs to get back to some basics, for starters, remember that they need to try and last the full quota of overs.
Rahul Dravid had said a day ago that results (read, winning) were essential.
For an India starved of wins this season, a series-deciding victory should have been worth throwing everything into the hat, simply for the moral boost it would have given them, but perhaps complacency (or insecurity, depending on which way you see it) crept in.
Twice it was shown. First when they went in with just four bowlers, including one they call an all-rounder (but do not really use as such) in Ramesh Powar and secondly, when their batsmen committed collective hara kiri after a flying start from Robin Uthappa (70 off 41 balls), that took them to 90-plus runs in 10 overs on a belter of a track and after that, a century stand at almost a run a ball for the fourth wicket between Tendulkar and Dravid.
India looked on course for a 350-plus total but after the duo departed, the rest fell in an embarrassing heap to 268 in 48 overs.
Still, when Ajit Agarkar gave them two breakthroughs at the start, removing the dangerous Chris Gayle first ball and Runako Morton for 1, things seemed to brighten.
Unfortunately, the Indian bowlers ran into a solid middle-order — one that was far more solid than their own — that steered the West Indies to an easy victory.
The defeat itself is not the only problem. The Indian think-tank should be very worried about the way they lost on a track that should have witnessed a run-fest, especially after they were given first use of it by a generous Lara.
Till the end, it was a match to watch for a real fan. There were some deft touches, nudges and pushes; there had been dances down the track and some exquisite timing — both Lara (83, 88 balls) and Samuels (98, 95 balls) had showcased some lovely batting through their century stand.
But none of it really interested the crowd, not even a late flurry of Windies’ wickets. People began to leave in large groups even when there were 50 runs still to get for the West Indies. Their lack of faith summed up the mood of the day and in a way, the entire season for India.