Looking at how West Indies struggled in the chase of 310 in Trinidad, you felt they would need a leveller to compete with India. In Antigua, they got a bit of a leveller when they won the toss on a damp pitch – the start was delayed by 45 minutes because of torrential rain a day before the match – and kept India to 251, but their batsmen still fell short by 93.
It was also a leveller that ODI cricket can do with every now and then: slips in place, value on short singles, premium on playing long innings. Reaching the run rate of four only in 43rd over, India’s 251 for 4 was the third-lowest total this decade for a side batting first and losing four wickets or fewer. Ajinkya Rahane, auditioning for the opener-cum-middle-order reserve role, batted through 42 overs for 72; his strike rate of 64.28 was the second-slowest since 2010 for openers batting first and facing 110 balls.
However, that helped set the base for an MS Dhoni assault, who in Kedar Jadhav’s company, added 81 in the last 7.4 overs to take India well past 220, which might have been about par, considering West Indies’ inexperienced bating. Rahane’s wicket seemed to have come at the right time: Jadhav got 26 balls to smack 40 runs in, and Dhoni matched it with 50 off the last 29 balls he faced.
Devendra Bishoo was again the pick of the bowlers, going for 38 runs for the wicket of Yuvraj Singh and adding a stunning catch to it. He, though, was introduced after Ashley Nurse had bowled five overs. The focus was clear: despite a helpful pitch and a start that had reduced India to 34 for 2, West Indies were happy to contain and take the wickets that came their way instead of actively going out looking for them.
Those of Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli came their way. They didn’t display the required patience to weather this mode of bowling. Dhawan ramped a short ball but lack of pace did him in. Despite struggling against the unpredictable bounce, Kohli went to steer a rising delivery and gave the man at gully a catch. Yuvraj Singh’s wicket would have come West Indies’ way earlier than it did, but they neither appealed strongly nor reviewed when Yuvraj should have been out. By the time they got Yuvraj – thanks to a review again – he and Rahane had added 66, taken India to 100 and into the 27th over.
Rahane had slowed down after scoring 19 off the first 19 balls he faced, and Dhoni himself struggled against the spin of Bishoo. The two batted on, but West Indies kept squeezing through defensive bowling. By the 39th over, it seemed Dhoni had decided it was time to go. He went after Bishoo, in his ninth over. One slog fell short of long-on, and the other lobbed towards short third man, to debutant Kyle Hope, who had earlier taken an excellent catch to dismiss Kohli. This time, though, the ball seemed to hold up in the wind, and started to dip just short of him. He dived after having committed to go one way, but couldn’t control the catch. Dhoni was only 28 off 50 at that point.
Rahane didn’t enjoy similar luck when he decided it was time to go, against Miguel Cummins’ pace in the 43rd over. Bishoo judged his upper-cut perfectly, ran in from deep point, and dived at the right moment.
Rahane had gone after Cummins not just because there was finally pace on the ball but also because debutant Kesrick Williams, charged with bowling five overs out of the last nine, was doing well. So Dhoni targeted Jason Holder, and took 17 off his last over, stunningly fetching one length ball from wide outside off and depositing it flat over square leg for six. Jadhav saw Dhoni’s innovation, and raised him a sweep shot off Cummins, having gone on a knee and well outside off well before Cummins released, and then pulling off the shot with surprising ease thanks to his still head.
Steady heads was what West Indies needed at the top, but Umesh Yadav broke through the defence of Ewin Lewis in his first over, skidding the ball under his bat from round the wicket. That brought together brothers Hope, Kyle and Shai, who added 45 for the second wicket before they both fell to bouncers from Hardik Pandya. West Indies continued to misread Kuldeep Yadav, who bowled Roston Chase with a wrong’un, before R Ashwin premiered a new bowling action and struck in his first over.
Ashwin shaped up to bowl a bit like a legspinner would but focused on his offbreaks more than he did in the previous match. In his first over, he had an overbalanced Jason Holder stumped with a wide down the leg side. You can’t be certain if Holder did actually play for a legbreak. You can be certain West Indies were now looking at their last hope: the partnership between Jason Mohammed and Rovman Powell.
Powell played a couple of attractive strokes to go with a couple of streaky ones as the two added 54 together, but India slowed down the pace of the game. Spin came on at both ends, four runs came in 23 balls, and Powell finally tried the big slog to give Kuldeep his second wicket. Ashwin soon had his second with the trigger-happy Ashley Nurse caught at square leg. West Indies still needed 104 at that point. Only finishing touches were left, which the spinners duly did.