Luckless Windies bump into an efficacious zealot

Luck is a crucial ingredient of sporting success apart from talent, hard work, preparation, tactical nous, execution skill, and fortitude. Losing captains often resort to the hackneyed cliche ‘little things didn’t go our way’ at the end of a closely contested affair. Cricket is a game of small margins, so teams and individuals need the rub of the green despite best efforts. West Indies’ performance in the series decider was emblematic of a laggard that came a cropper in the World Cup Qualifiers, but the 200-run defeat could’ve been less irksome had fortune smiled upon the hosts.

While Ishan Kishan’s uncontrolled hook evaded the boundary rider stationed for that particular shot by a whisker, Romario Shepherd was caught on the fence. Both had their hearts in their mouth upon miscuing, only one was dealt a bad hand as Jaydev Unadkat completed a juggling act.

Keacy Carty’s edge carried just enough for Shubman Gill to plant his fingers underneath, but Kishan’s uppish drive died on Kyle Mayers in his follow through. As Gill pulled Alzarri Joseph with disdain on the first ball of the ninth over, Mayers rushed to have a word with the pacer and took himself out of the lone slip to stand at cover, only for the nick to be found on the very next ball.

In 23 List A matches at the Brain Lara Stadium, units batting first had breached 250 a mere seven times, although Shai Hope expected the ‘ball to come on a bit better’ than Bridgetown, as proved to be the case up until the spinners rolled their arm over. Joseph, Jayden Seales and Shepherd conceded 225 runs in 28 overs between them from India’s total of 351. A golden opportunity to thaw the imminent bloodbath presented itself in the second over of the innings with Kishan cutting straight to point, but Carty made a meal of the regulation catch. Fielding is a controllable which when checkmarked makes life easier for the bowlers, especially on a true surface. Alas, the dropped chance was a harbinger of the wretched luck that underpinned West Indies’ fruitless toil in the dozen overs upfront.

Gill even escaped a run-out during his 143-run partnership with Kishan after sprinting halfway down the pitch. The youngsters lived dangerously en route to the highest opening stand for India on Carribean shores, going past Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane’s 132 at Port of Spain in 2017.

For Hope, the profligacy of his new-ball merchants necessitated the introduction of spin earlier than usual. Gudakesh Motie came up with the ninth over, which was his third over in the mandatory PowerPlay in ODIs. His partner-in-crime Yannic Cariah vindicated the captain’s call to deny the left-right combo pace from either end by outsmarting Kishan, the sixth Indian to score a fifty in all three matches of a bilateral ODI series. Ruturaj Gaikwad’s early departure left India at a precarious juncture, as two wickets in quick succession could’ve paved the path for Windies’ resurgence.

Sanju Samson, however, had other ideas. He belongs to a rare breed of batters to have genuinely destigmatized risk. “I’m not here to score lots and lots of runs,” he highlighted his approach on the YouTube show Breakfast With Champions. “I’m here to score a small amount of runs which is very effective for the team.” Though Samson made this comment in reference to T20s, the fact that he hit two sixes in his first four balls on Tuesday evidences that his team-first psyche doesn’t undergo a wholesale change when it comes to the 50-over format.

Conventional wisdom suggests biding time to patch up the innings in the wake of a double whammy, but momentum is a buzzword of the modern game and teams are wary of squandering this precious commodity. Hence, it didn’t matter to the team-man in Samson that he was dismissed in the second ODI by Cariah cheaply or that he was auditioning for an Asia or World Cup berth. Ensuring the robust platform laid by the openers doesn’t go to waste was far more important than these peripheral constraints. As Cariah floated the ball above the eyeline, he didn’t hesitate in taking the aerial route. His pick-up flick off Seales inspired as much awe as the 94m six he walloped after advancing to the leg-spinner.

Samson’s 39-ball fifty took the pressure off Gill, safeguarded against a slowdown in the middle overs – India added 69 in 8.5 overs – and proffered Hardik Pandya the breathing space to get his eye in before employing the long levers to great effect.

‘’It feels really great to spend some time in the middle, score some runs and contribute for your country. I had different plans for different players, I wanted to use my feet and dominate the lengths of the bowlers.’’ Samson remarked.

‘’Being an Indian cricketer is a challenging thing, I have played domestic cricket for the last 8-9 years and for India here and there, so it gives you a bit of understanding of playing in different positions. It is the number of overs you get and it is not about batting position so you have to prepare accordingly.’’

‘’Kensington Oval was a bit damp, but this surface looked a bit dry. With the new ball it was coming on nicely, but as the ball got old it was holding up and became slightly tough against the spinners. It was not easy to get that score, credit goes to the middle order batters for hanging in and getting that score.’’ An imposing score that sealed the 13th series win on the trot versus West Indies, making India the record holder for most consecutive bilateral ODI series victories against a particular team.