Wonderful Windies steal India's moment

01 April 2016
Our voices

Lesser Windies names star where the big guns could not as the Caribbean side breaks India's hearts

Indian fans stood motionless, pressed against the fences between the seats and the outfield, and refusing to believe what they had just seen.

This was India’s moment, another sumptuous innings from Virat Kohli paving the way for an Eden Gardens date with England.

Only now, it was not.

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When Andre Russell smited a rank full toss over midwicket for six, his teammates burst onto the outfield in jubilation while the Wankhede crowd slipped into desolate silence.

The West Indies had not merely eliminated the favourites and holders, but they had done it without a contribution from Chris Gayle, who scored only five.

It was all the more remarkable because, while India gave unprecedented attention to ensuring their prepared adequately for the World Twenty20, the West Indies’ build-up was shoddy.

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Consider this: in the 12 months before the opening game of the Super 10s, India played 15 T20Is, but the West Indies only two.

It is said that the West Indies are a coterie of players and not a team; that, while they are capable of brilliant performances like Gayle’s unbeaten century to down England in their opening Super 10 match, cohesive team displays are beyond this pop-up side.

At the Wankhede the West Indies exposed such analysis as tripe.

Even as India amassed 2-192, the West Indies still retained their vim in the field.

And if the bowlers have had better days, they still restricted India to a score 37 shy of that England overhauled against South Africa here a fortnight ago.

Each bowled with purpose and to a plan. With Samuel Badree opening the bowling with his legspin and bowling out early in the innings and Dwayne Bravo’s array of slower balls reserved for the depth, this is a side with a well-honed strategy in the field.

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More than anything, the West Indies are adept at curbing down on boundaries. India scored 17 fours and four sixes, which sounds ample but only amounts to 92 runs.

The West Indies had no such problems, even with Gayle yorked by the seventh ball of the innings. With bat the approaches of India and the West Indies were antithetical. 

India had focused upon building a solid platform before exploding; it was this thinking that led to a recall for Ajinkya Rahane, who played characteristically in scoring 40 from 35 balls opening the batting, MS Dhoni later confirmed.

The Indian way is to emphasise low-risk cricket, minimising dot balls and maximising twos by zealous running between the wickets.

When batting first India reassess what constitutes a par score every few overs, Dhoni said, admitting that fear of being restricted to 160-170 prevented them from aiming for 210 from early in their innings.

The West Indies cared not for dot balls; they only had boundaries on their mind.

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But while the dots piled up, so too did the boundaries.

Russell’s decisive six took the West Indies’ tally of runs in boundaries to 146, 54 more than India.

Russell played the finisher’s role to perfection, brutalising anything short in waltzing to 43 not out. On one occasion Russell palpably mistimed the ball, but it was strong-armed over midwicket for six even as he lost his shape.

Johnson Charles was as crucial opening the innings, thrashing 52 to provide early impetus in lieu of Gayle.

But, more than anything, this was Lendl Simmons’ night.

Four days ago he had been at home, unselected for this tournament and wondering whether, as a 31-year-old who had not been selected for a year, he would ever play for the West Indies again.

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Then Andre Fletcher injured his hamstring against Afghanistan and was ruled out of the tournament; Evin Lewis, who originally pipped Simmons to a place in the squad, managed only a painful seven-ball duck on debut against Afghanistan.

So Simmons was summoned into the squad and despite only having a solitary full day to prepare, catapulted into the team too.

And here he produced the finest innings of a career too often defined by promise far exceeding performance.

By turns classical, inventive and disdainful, this was an innings of considerable fortune too.

Three times Simmons trudged off the field believing himself dismissed. Each time – twice after no-balls, once after a fielder stepped on the boundary rope when parrying the ball back into a teammate – Simmons was reprieved. 

"Up and ready to create history” Simmons declared on twitter a few hours before the game. He has proved as good as his word.

And England have been warned: getting Gayle out early might be nice, but against this West Indies side - in this mood - it is certainly not enough. 

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