For a long time during their chase, West Indies looked within sniffing distance of the Indian target in the second ODI at the Queen’s Park Oval. A hobbling Evin Lewis and the highly talented youngster Nicholas Pooran were at the crease, having added 56 for the fourth wicket at a speed quick enough to not allow the asking-rate to climb up too rapidly.
India’s fielding looked to be wilting too at that stage. Captain Virat Kohli, who had earlier scored his first century in five months and his 42nd in this format, seemed to be losing more cool than one would on a humid Caribbean afternoon as misfields and overthrows mounted and the game just begun to slip away from the tourists. With 19 overs to go and a rate of just over six to achieve, what India needed was wickets to get into the West Indian lower-middle order.
That came in the form of a few gifts from the hosts and stunning catching. A tiring Lewis slapped a rank long-hop to short cover where Kohli grabbed a solid one-hander over his head.
A decent stand with Roston Chase later, Pooran was done in by a Bhuvneshwar short ball and when the same bowler showed extreme athleticism to dive to his left to send Chase as well, the West Indian chase was all but over. Ravindra Jadeja, who had been held back from bowling at the two left-handers, came in later to pick up Carlos Brathwaite and while Jason Holder tried his bit, the required-rate spiralled out of control for the home team. And with that India went 1-0 up in the three-match ODI series after the first game had been abandoned because of rain.
Earlier, Chris Gayle, in his 300th ODI went past Brian Lara to become the highest-scoring ODI cricketer for the West Indies but was dismissed for 11.
Kohli’s World Cup had been a middling one by his own lofty standards. It didn’t help his personal cause that the Indian middle-order brittleness came to the fore so regularly, and he was often needed to take control of one end in case Rohit Sharma fell early and truth be told, he played that role to perfection. Still, it would have been long odds for Kohli to have ended the tournament without a century, which is what happened.
11 innings and five fifties without a hundred changed today and it was a century typical of Kohli. The strike-rate never drooped a lot, but a lot of his runs came off singles and twos. Even when at the other end Rohit was struggling to get used to pace of the pitch, Kohli seemed unflustered. The 30-plus degrees temperature and 55% humidity didn’t bother him too much either and while the West Indian bowlers often lost their lines to the Indian captain - drifting on to his pads - it was a knock punctuated by the typical Kohli chutzpah and intelligence.
West Indies looked like there was an early plan against Kohli, bowling to outside the off with non fine-leg or short fine-leg in place. It was a reasonable strategy at batsman who has had that chink to the out-swinger but the movement deserted the bowlers early and the lines began to waver quickly.
The wickets of Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant gave West Indies a glimmer of hope. The surface looked difficult to bat on when Rohit was at the crease and while Pant started off well, his impatience got the better of him too. It was only when Shreyas Iyer joined Kohli at the crease, the game began to turn away from the hosts.
Iyer had spoken of cementing his chances this time around and his international cricketing resumption showed signs he was looking to walk the talk. The phase he was at the crease with Kohli, the middle overs where batsmen look to keep up with the scoring with a lot of running and set it up for the final overs, was also India’s most productive period before the death overs.
Only 101 runs had come in the first 22.1 overs before Iyer strode out, but 12 came in the 19.1 overs that followed. Iyer bedazzled with his cuts, punctuating those with upper-ramps through fine third-man. Incidentally, once Kohli departed in the 42nd over, just 53 runs came off the final 51 balls with Carlos Brathwaite picking up Kohli and Bhuvneshwar to finish with a three-fer.
While common wisdom would have had Iyer coming in at four, the Indian think-tank seems to favour Pant at the moment as was visible during the T20Is as well. And for a while Pant looked like he had come to the crease with the right frame of mind too. There was that in-between approach which saw not a lot of risk that Pant usually is prone to take and yet, managing to keep up the ante.
Chase, who had earlier got the better of a struggling Rohit Sharma, pegged Pant’s scoring back with a string of 10 dot balls in a row. And that might have played a part in Pant’s dismissal to a length ball at barely any pace from Carlos Brathwaite, playing a nothing shot in its response. If one were to be really kind, it was a pull shot gone wrong but the common consensus was it bordered on the wrong side of horrible.