Given the way the Indian batting lineup collapsed in the 2nd ODI and the exploitation of the conditions by the West Indian bowlers, whoever wins the toss tomorrow may seriously consider bowling first. The type of the pitch in St. Lucia should, of course, be the main point to consider when making such a decision but the impact left by such a comprehensive defeat may affect even the most straightforward decisions. India’s captain, MS Dhoni, has already stated that he misread the pitch in the last game and it would seem likely that he would put more effort in determining the way the next pitch would play to avoid having to make the same statement again.
The fans could have a large impact on the game as matches in St. Lucia are usually very well attended and are often sold out. The West Indies should have the level of support that they did in the 2nd ODI and the crowd will be eager to spur the home team onto their second consecutive win. It is slightly unfortunate for the St. Lucians that their first international cricketer, Darren Sammy, will not be playing in this match but with a win they would forget this seeming transgression by the West Indies.
In the last game the West Indian bowlers made use of the swing that they found with the new ball. This was due to the morning conditions and conversely the Indian bowlers found no swing at all at the start of the West Indian innings. Given the threat that the Indian pace bowlers possess when the ball is swinging they may seek to exploit the morning conditions and test the technique of the West Indies batsmen against a moving ball.
The Indian fast bowlers were wayward in the first match conceding several extras and were guilty of bowling too short and wide at the West Indies for which they were duly punished. In the next ODI the extras conceded were reduced effectively but other than Praveen Kumar, who was brought in for the match, the bowling was still wayward and expensive.
When the ball does not swing the Indian fast bowlers seem to have trouble bowling without the movement. As international bowlers they must have the knowledge, if not the experience, that swing is not a continuous phenomenon. Therefore they should all have a stock delivery which builds pressure and forces the batsmen to play risky shots. So far all they have done is bowl in the hope of swing which, when it does not come, only creates a non-threatening delivery or bowl short at batsmen who are comfortably with that sort of delivery. It can be said that the fast bowling seems to lack ideas and perhaps more training is needed.
India’s bowling strength usually lies in their spin bowling. In the first match Yusuf Pathan too three wickets but could not repeat that performance in the second match and was taken off after just two overs. Harbhajan Singh has been consistent with his line and length and does not usually bowl poor deliveries but at the same time he does not look especially threatening and the batsmen are capable of getting runs by working his deliveries through the gaps in the field.
Ravindra Jajeda bowled economically in the first match and his two overs in the second ODI only went for 12 runs. Rohit Sharma was India’s most successful bowler in the second game as well as their most economical. However both these players are here as much for their batting as for their bowling. Sharma in his role at #3 is pivotal for the Indian line-up and the question that should be asked is whether his bowling performances can keep him in the team even when his batting is yet to impress. Jajeda is a player who is thought of more as an all rounder than as a batsman who bowls part-time, but his lack of wickets coupled with his lack of runs may cause him to be dropped if India choose to strengthen either the batting or bowling.
After the first match the Indian selectors would have considered strengthening the bowling, now they should be concerned with strengthening the batting. Bothe Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni look to be in great form. Yuvraj has shown in his innings in the first ODI that he is one of the biggest hitters in the international game and he again looked set for a big score in the second ODI before getting out after he made 35. Dhoni has looked immovable at the crease and seems to relish his role as the batsman responsible for controlling the innings. His 95 in the second ODI saved India from what would have been a considerably lower total.
With top order batsmen Subramaniam Badrinath and Murali Vijay in the squad Gautam Gambhir may be feeling the pressure to score runs. Both are experienced first class players and India may choose to bring them in if they feel that their younger players such as Sharma and Jajeda are yet unready for the international demands. Pragyan Ojha is also in the side if India feel the need to bolster their spin attack but considering that the West Indies have looked less susceptible to spin than they usually do the effect of such a decision may be negligible.
The West Indies, to no one’s surprise who follows the team, looked completely different from the first match when they turned up in the second. Their bowlers who had been so wayward, in particular Jerome Taylor, produced a sustained spell of fast incisive bowling which reduced the Indian lineup to 88/8. Taylor’s slower ball to remove Dhoni and end the innings was as perfect as such a delivery can be and if he maintains control of it , then it will be a potent weapon. Ravi Rampaul in his first match back after a long period was outstanding in getting the ball to swing and bowling deliveries that were difficult to score off. His figures of 4 wickets for 37 runs were a true reflection of his bowling and he fully deserved his man of the match award.
The opening bowlers were well supported by Dwanye Bravo who picked up 3 wickets and was once again the bowler to make things happen as it was he who removed RP Singh and ended the partnership of 101 runs for the ninth wicket. Sulieman Benn was economical as he seems to always be in recent times and again exerted great control as he also did in the first match where he was one of the few economical bowlers in that game. Dave Bernard also bowled economically and maintained the pressure set by the earlier bowlers.
In the first match several batsmen were guilty of getting starts and then getting out. In the second match both opening batsmen made fifties with Gayle making 63 before getting out. Runako Morton scored an unbeaten 85 which featured good running between the wickets and he is sure to be pleased to have converted his start which he failed to do in the previous game. Chanderpaul featured briefly at the end in bringing the game home but by then the 101 run opening partnership had effectively set up the West Indies for an easy win.
Dwanye Bravo was unlucky to be given out in the first ODI to a ball that was clearly above waist height and he should be eager to perform if he is given an opportunity. In the brief cameo, Darren Bravo showed good technique and batted impressively and he would be hoping to get a good score in his next innings to prove that he can perform at an international level and not just look like it.
Importantly for the West Indies is that they field well and maintain an intensity in the field. During the partnership between Dhoni and RP Singh they seemed to lose some of their liveliness and seemed consigned to let things happen instead of trying to create opportunities. In this case it did not affect the end result but it is something to be worked on.
The key to this match, as it is with several for the West Indies, is whether they can keep the momentum going from their previous game. The team would love to shake off their tag of inconsistency and consecutive wins would be a start. For India they need to remove the lapses that brought them down in the last game while reminding themselves that they do not want to face such a humiliation again.