This really must be how opponents of Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan felt back in the day. It didn’t matter whether you neutralized the influence of the other eight New York Yankees batters or the other four men in the Chicago Bulls roster. But if you could negate the effect that Ruth or Jordan single-handedly brought to the game, then you were definitely going to win the contest. Simple.
Virat Kohli must give opposition teams the same feeling. After posting 283, West Indies were against the ropes all evening despite only one India batsman going past 35. That one batsman was Kohli, and as long as he was in the middle, West Indies looked unlikely to win. That’s when Jason Holder took his biggest gamble in the 41st over.
He introduced Marlon Samuels’ part-time off-spin for the first time in this series, the risk paid off right away, Kohli fell for 107, and with that India’s hopes of a win came crashing. A batting line-up lacking depth – with Ravindra Jadeja left out, Bhuvneshwar Kumar batted at No. 7 – folded quickly, and India was bowled out for 240, falling short of their target by 44 runs in front of a sparse crowd that began to make their way out as soon as the India captain was dismissed. West Indies leveled the ODI series to 1-1 after three games and set the five-game contest up beautifully as it approaches its crescendo.
That West Indies eventually did post 283 in the first innings was courtesy Shai Hope’s second-consecutive fifty-plus score and a 22-ball 40 from Ashley Nurse. Hope saw West Indies slip to 55 for 3 and rebuild a bit before another wobble left them at 121 for 5. But he anchored the innings throughout, looking comfortable against both pace and spin in warm Pune conditions and handed them a promising score by the time he was bowled five short of a third ODI century.
Jasprit Bumrah was the pick of the India bowlers in the afternoon. He returned to the XI after being rested earlier on and collected a four-wicket haul at an economy rate of 3.50. That played a considerable role in restricting West Indies to under 300 for the first time this series.
Bumrah had two double-wicket bursts: first, he removed openers Chandrapaul Hemraj and Kieran Powell with short-pitched deliveries that contorted them into uncomfortable positions. He then bowled the delivery of the match in the back-end – a pinpoint yorker originating outside off and tailing into the stumps – to dismiss Hope on 95 just when West Indies looked to accelerate past 300 and followed it up with the wicket Nurse in the 50th over to cap off a terrific return into the ODI side. The rest of the India bowlers though, including the spinners, went for over 5.20 an over.
Midway through the chase, it looked like Kohli would once again be the difference between the sides. His third consecutive ODI hundred – he became the first Indian to do so – had kept India in control despite their openers and middle order failing. He treated both spin and pace with disdain in his 119-ball innings, a chanceless one up until his dismissal.
But it all unraveled after Kohli’s wicket. India still needed 64, with the asking rate above six, and that was simply too much for their lower order to pull off. Samuels cleaned up the tail, finishing with figures of 3 for 12, and ended up as West Indies’ most successful bowler on the night.
Offspinner Nurse, the Man of the Match, too played his part in West Indies’ victory. And not only with the ball. His strike-rate of 181.81 in a 56-run ninth-wicket stand with Kemar Roach gave West Indies the necessary push after they had looked likely to be bowled out for under 250. But he commandeered a late assault with Roach hitting three sixes and five fours. Together, they creamed 21 runs off the 49th to ensure Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished with figures of 1 for 70 and gave West Indies momentum that they carried into the mid-innings break. He then got the wickets of Shikhar Dhawan, lbw in front of middle stump, and Rishabh Pant, caught behind down the leg side, to keep West Indies alive.
Barring Rohit Sharma, who fell for 8 to a Jason Holder outswinger, the rest of India’s top five got starts, but only Kohli capitalized. Dhawan fell to offspin for the fifth time in his last 15 innings, after getting to 35. Ambati Rayudu chopped a length ball onto his stumps off Obed McCoy after scoring 22. Pant failed to capitalize after rushing to 24 in 17 balls, and MS Dhoni edged one to the wicketkeeper off Jason Holder. India were 194 for 4 just before Dhoni fell, and seemed destined to win as long as Kohli was at the crease. But he showed that he’s human after all, and India showed their batting was susceptible to smart, tight bowling.
In the afternoon, West Indies were asked to bat first under sunny conditions, and they followed a similar template to the first two ODIs. Hemraj fell early, Kieran followed soon after, Samuels failed again and Rovman Powell crumbled to spin once more. It was a Shimron Hetmyer-Hope partnership of 56 for the fourth wicket that lifted the visitors from 55 for 3 to 111 for 4.
Hetmyer found his range early, depositing Yuzvendra Chahal for two sixes and Kuldeep Yadav for another. But when Kuldeep teased Hetmyer with a slow, flighted delivery, the batsman couldn’t resist a slog, dragged his foot out of the crease, as he missed, and was stumped by the fast hands of Dhoni. Hetmyer fell for 37, his lowest score of the series. Kuldeep, who finished with 2 for 52, added another wicket when he deceived Rovman four overs later with a dipping delivery that looked fuller than it actually was. Powell slogged wildly and toe-ended a catch to first slip where Rohit took a sharp one.