It is one of the toughest tasks in cricket to keep Chris Gayle quiet or dismiss him before he starts hitting even good balls into the stands. Not many bowlers have been successful at keeping the Jamaican’s strike rate to even a run a ball. A subdued Gayle can explode because he also tends to bide his time before switching gears in case he is not able to find the boundaries early in the innings.
When Gayle isn’t dealing in fours and sixes, bowlers have to worry about the man at the other end Dwayne Smith. The Barbadian can be as destructive as Gayle with his ability to clear his front foot and land those big hits into the stands. Added to that, the wicket used for the West Indies vs India clash was the same one on which Pakistan and Australia had made a combined aggregate of 366 runs a little earlier in the day.
To bowl to Gayle and Smith is not a task for a faint-hearted bowler. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar had the unenviable task for bowling the first over of the match. However, Dhoni’s decision to open the attack with Bhuvaneshwar instead of Ashwin proved to me a master-stroke. In the opening over he gave away one run, in the second he gave away another run and in the third he conceded a single and a bye. There were sixteen dot balls in his first 18 deliveries.
The medium-pacer is at his best when he uses the new ball. He can swing the ball both ways and lands the seam upright more often these days. If he maintains a good line and length he becomes difficult to score off. If the opening bowlers — Mohammed Shami was Bhuvaneshwar’s new-ball partner — knocked over a couple of batsmen then the spinners could add to the pressure by bowling a wicket-to-wicket line.
India’s bowling plans fell into place, just like it had against Pakistan on Friday. For the second successive match the spinners had taken full advantage of the conditions to ensure that the batsmen didn’t face the pressure of chasing a huge total. Bhuvaneshwar was equally impressive.
In the first over Bhuvaneshwar bowled five out-swingers. Smith didn’t get to put bat on ball in the first four deliveries. Off the fifth he didn’t hit the ball where he intended to and crossed over for a single. Gayle didn’t score off the final ball of the first over.
Smith was facing Bhuvaneshwar again in the third over and once again the medium-pacer kept the opener guessing as to which way the ball would swing. The only run came off an extra, a wide. Gayle found his range thought the mid-wicket region, a six and a four through mid-wicket while facing Shami. Gayle hit his second six to the long-on boundary off the first ball of Mishra’s over but that was to be his last big shot.
Spin it to win it
Dhoni brought his spinners —Mishra, Ravichandran Ashwin and Suresh Raina — in to play. Smith was really off colour and his innings came to an end when he tried to push to mid-off but only gave Ashwin the opportunity to take a return catch. By forcing the West Indian batsmen to work hard for their runs, the Indian spinners were testing their patience. It finally paid dividends when Gayle called Marlon Samuels for a non-existent run and was well short of his ground.
Gayle was run-out after making 34 off 33 balls. He was dropped twice in the innings – on zero by Ashwin and on 19 by Yuvraj. The uncertainty while batting of the top of the order had a trickle-down effect. To add to the troubles of the West Indian batsmen they were struggling to pick Mishra. The leg-break and the googly posed problems for Samuels. In the fifteenth over Mishra’s double strike removed the big-hitters in the middle order.
Two in two
Samuels came down the track to try and get a move on. The leg-break deceived him and Dhoni made a smooth stumping. It was similar to the way the leg-spinner had scalped Pakistan opener Ahmed Shehzad the other day. Dwayne Bravo was perhaps excepting a similar ball when he walked in. But instead Mishra got the googly going. Bravo only had his pad to offer.
Jadeja was the most successful of the spinners picking up three wickets as the lower-order tried to hit the team out of trouble. But his figures were spoilt when he was hit for 20 runs, including three sixes.
India completed the chase with two balls to spare. A 106-run partnership between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli for the second wicket ended any hopes of a West Indies fight back. Suresh Raina hit the winning runs after Yuvraj lost his wicket with three balls to go.
Mishra was named man of the match, his second in the tournament. It bodes well for a team whose strength is batting.