The year was 1991. Sachin Tendulkar was the bowler. Anderson Cummins was the batsman. The West Indies needed a single run off 55 balls to win the match but they had just one wicket in hand.
The West Indies had fought their way back from 76/8 to coming within touching distance of a win. The batsmen in the middle had just run three to tie the match and with Cummins (their top-scorer in the match) on strike, they would have fancied their chances. But Tendulkar got the last ball of his over to seam away, take the edge and Mohammad Azharuddin, diving to his left in the slips, took a great low catch to deny the West Indies.
It was only the fourth tie in the history of ODI cricket and, till Wednesday, it was the only India-West Indies ODI match to have ended in that fashion.
But as Shai Hope smashed the last ball of the Vizag ODI from Umesh Yadav for four, there was another addition to the list. Neither side seemed happy with the result. They weren’t sure whether they should smile at the end of the game. No one more so than Hope himself. This was a match both sides would have felt they should have won.
When asked after the game what he thought of the result, Hope put it succinctly: “We come here to win. We don’t come here to just compete.”
Batting first, India put on 321 for the loss of six wickets in their 50 overs. The total was made largely possible thanks to another brilliant century from skipper Virat Kohli. During the innings, he became the fastest cricketer to score 10,000 runs in ODI cricket.
These weren’t great batting conditions – or as the locals are wont to say, the pitch wasn’t a “pata” wicket. There was turn for the spinners and it didn’t have great pace. But Kohli took his time – even that is relative – building his innings. He had just 10 fours in his century and his first six came only after 112 balls. Given that the ball was turning and India were playing three spinners, the hosts were expected to have the advantage.
But dew usually plays a huge role in Vizag. It makes the ball difficult to grip for the spinners and the ball just starts coming onto the bat well. There is a reason why, of the seven games played at Vizag, five have been won by the team chasing.
However, for a while, it didn’t look like the West Indies would hang around long enough to make the advantage count. They were reduced to 78/3 but that is when Shimron Hetmyer and Hope decided to make a stand.
In the first ODI, Hetmyer had given us all an example of just how dangerous he could be. On Wednesday, he took that up a notch. The left-hander is especially strong on the leg-side and he wasn’t afraid to pick up the ball – time and again – and deposit it in the stands. The Indian bowlers were guilty of being too straight to him… perhaps they thought he would eventually throw it away. But he didn’t. He kept hitting the big shots and placing them well too.
The 143 runs that Hetmyer and Hope put on laid a solid foundation for the West Indies. They didn’t have too many batsmen left after Hetmyer fell but the equation was relatively straightforward: The West Indies needed another 101 runs with six wickets and 18.1 overs remaining.
Hope was still there in the middle but his engine seemed to be shutting down. We rarely if ever see this happen in T20 cricket. But he was cramping up and feeling the effects of a long day. He starting hitting the loose balls straight to the fielders or not connecting with the rank long hops. Rovman Powell (18) hung around for a while, and Jason Holder (12 off 23 balls) tried to steady the ship.
But in the end, India’s bowling managed to pull it back in the last five overs. Chahal came up with a tight over, Shami did the same and so did Umesh. It finally came down to 14 runs needed off the last over.
During the last few overs, Hope had almost seemed too happy to turn over the strike to the junior partners. Powell, Holder and even Ashley Nurse had more of the ball than him. And this might have cost the West Indies. At the same time in the Indian innings, Virat Kohli had moved into a higher gear.
Kohli got to his 100 off 106 balls, but then hammered 57 runs off the next 23 balls he faced.
Hope got to his 100 off 113 balls, but then scored only 23 runs off the next 21 balls he faced.
That slowdown killed the moment of their innings. Of course, there were other factors involved but the set batsman has to finish the job. Kohli invariably does that. For Hope, the match will be a learning experience that will stand him in good stead and the same can be said for the young West Indies team too.
These are the matches that will give them the belief and strength to work on their game. Playing India in India is never easy. The wickets are different, India’s spinners are a huge factor and their batsmen love the conditions.
But by pushing India – it might be fair to say, against the odds – West Indies will have given their own cricket development a huge boost. This is something they can build on.
For India, the search for options continues. Rayudu was sorted during his fine innings of 73 but the seam options remain a tricky choice. Shami and Umesh were just not on the mark often enough and that should worry the team management a bit.
India got lucky with the tied game and they realise that but it would have reinforced the feeling that this isn’t going to be like the Test matches. The shorter the games, the better the West Indies seem to get.