SPORT

Indians wilt under Gayle force

V.V.S. Laxman, who topscored for India with a neatly-compiled 99, takes the aerial route to the bowling of West Indian leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo, watched by wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs.

V.V.S. Laxman, who topscored for India with a neatly-compiled 99, takes the aerial route to the bowling of West Indian leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo, watched by wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs.  

NAGPUR NOV. 9. Some sweeping reforms were effected by a devoted bureaucrat here recently, changing the face of this city, transforming it into a modern and vibrant place. Perhaps, Indian cricket could do with a similar change in attitude. Fresh introspection is needed to study in the right perspective the actual overall strength of the team.

It looks too inconsistent — good in some sessions and pretty ordinary in some. When the batsmen click the bowlers fail. This lack of cohesion has been witnessed twice in the last four days.

The seven-wicket victory that the West Indies registered here, riding on a brilliant century by Chris Gayle, at the Vidarbha Cricket Stadium put the visiting side 2-0 ahead in the seven-match series. If anything, it highlighted the self-belief of the West Indian side which has improved with every outing since the defeat in the second Test at Chennai.

The Indians, who prospered through good knocks from V.V.S. Laxman (99) and Sourav Ganguly (78) may spend much time in trying to identify the main causes of the defeat but the fact remained that West Indies was a far better side in every department. The Indian batsmen seemed to have done well to set the opposition a target of 280 but then the bowlers once again came a cropper against a line-up which played to a plan. The match had been reduced to 47 overs a side — time being lost due to delayed start on account of dew and then after crowd trouble held up the play.

The West Indies had its task cut out on a pitch which was a beauty for limited-overs cricket.

Electing to field was a decision spurred by the win at Jamshedpur when the West Indies batsmen exploited the pressure created on the Indian bowlers. Here too, the Indian attack lost direction once the West Indians played a few robust strokes and once again the failure of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh weakened India's chances of defending a decent total.

Indian spinners prove an embarrassment

The Indian spinners bowled a poor line and were banished from the firing line through some sensible batting by Gayle and Marlon Samuels, their partnership effectively sealing the home team's fate. Basic line and length was all that the Indian bowlers had to stick but the lone exception happened to be veteran Javagal Srinath. The rest were an embarrassment to their skipper.

Caps were flung in disgust and arms flailed in desperation but nothing worked India's way on the field. None can set a field to bad bowling and the ease with which the West Indies clobbered the attack left very few in doubt that a fresh thinking will have to influence future experiments in this team.

Harbhajan and Kumble bowled just six overs each and that should explain Ganguly's anguish on the field. Ashish Nehra was put in his place by the aggressive Gayle and Wavell Hinds early in the innings while Ajit Agarkar too looked lost when confronted by the determined Gayle and Samuels.

No bowler was spared by the calculated assault that Gayle and Hinds began in style. It was finished in a flourish by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, neither showing any panic when the situation boiled down to run-a-ball. A tight over by Srinath created hopes for India but then Nehra was slammed by Chanderpaul and the West Indies was home comfortably.

The number of runs that came from strokes square of the wicket showed the Indian bowlers in a poor light. And when they overpitched the batsmen promptly smashed them for fours and sixes. The swung-six by Gayle off Kumble underlined the West Indies' domination this day.

Laxman unlucky

A well-crafted knock of 99 by Laxman had given India the advantage with Ganguly, in compiling his 48th half-century, too enjoying batting on a flat track. Sehwag swung the ball to long-leg and Agarkar to mid-on as India suffered early losses but Laxman and Ganguly gave shape to the plans with some disciplined batting. A needless move to promote Harbhajan fell flat but Laxman and Rahul Dravid, who batted superbly for his 41st half-century, once again put the innings on the right track.

The selfless Dravid was run out as he attempted to help the flawless Laxman reach his century, beaten on the second run. Unfortunately, Laxman departed next ball when he was stranded in trying to get the priceless run in search of his second one-day century. For the Indian camp, the innings by Laxman was a big gain and should now keep this wonderful strokeplayer in the scheme of things for the World Cup. India's batting was signified by the stylish trio of Laxman, Dravid and Ganguly and a total of 279 for nine looked quite healthy.

It was now left to the Indian bowlers. If only they had learnt the lessons from the last match when they strayed in length at crucial stages. Shockingly, the Indian bowling deteriorated as Gayle batted intelligently for his second one-day century with some excellent support from Hinds and Samuels before he left the stage for Chanderpaul and Sarwan. The biggest factor that pushed India on the defensive was the failure of Harbhajan and Kumble to shackle the West Indies in the middle overs. Of course, Nehra and Agarkar were shoddy all through while Sehwag too proved disastrous as the fifth option.

Ganguly's woes increased with each over as Hinds and Gayle gave the chase a racy start. They belted the ball to give themselves the confidence to maintain the scoring rate. In the end it may have looked close but essentially due to the fact that Gayle got out when he ought to have finished the job. The West Indies, however, had the ideal pair of Sarwan and Chanderpaul to pace the chase and set up a last-over conquest.

Gayle, the `man of the match', was obviously the most delighted soul at the stadium and Ganguly easily the most harassed man on the field today. He will have lot of rethinking to do in the days ahead as he reflects on the defeats at Jamshedpur and here. There are too many striking and disturbing similarities in the two debacles.

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