Of the over 600 runs scored, as many as 16 towering sixes and 66 boundaries raced through the Vadodara Cricket Academy grounds in Nagpur.
The battle was fast and furious. It seemed a battle largely left to two former captains. In the contest of the match, there was a larger motivation- drawing first blood. The fourteen run difference meant it was hard to predict a clear cut winner.
It rained 6s, in number and in its connotation in cricketing terms. Of the over 600 runs scored in a single day, as many as sixteen towering sixes and sixty-six boundaries raced through the score sheets and through the Vadodara Cricket Academy grounds in Nagpur. The staggering numbers spoke of a battle befitting kings.
The home series against the West Indies was perhaps the last attempt for India to bring about a semblance of sanity about the team composition as well as line up. After all the West Indies has been their nemesis that rose like Phoenix from the ashes in recent months. To rub salt into the wounds, much of it has been credited to Greg Chappell in an obvious war of words by none other than Brian Lara. The West Indian skipper is an intelligent skipper as he is an enigmatic cricketer.
But the day was divided between two former captains. The honours swung one way, then another. But neither diminished the value of the other. Perhaps the only telling difference was the fact that Sourav Ganguly was making a comeback in the one day version of the game, this after a chaotic year and despite over 10,000 runs to his name.
When news first reached of Ganguly being sent to South Africa as a part of a grooming process of the World Cup, it seems hardly plausible. Yet Ganguly has become the answer to Indias every woe. He was a stoic individual in the middle order in South Africa during the Test series. He plays a role he is familiar with but has been left out of during the perpetrated exile.
The axe had to fall sometime on Virender Sehwag. While it is true that players like Sehwag bloom rarely, it is a risk to carry a player who seems blind to the continual errors he brings to his game. With the idea to give him a break, in Dilip Vengsarkars words, India is hoping that Sehwag will fire once again in time for the World Cup. In the meanwhile, there was the awkward issue of filling in the opening slot.
In a classic case of cometh the hour, cometh the man, Ganguly had a dream run and a new innings that few will ever enjoy. Gautam Gambhir has not always had it easy in his short career. But alongside Ganguly, he played the perfect tango that had Lara perhaps ruing his decision at the toss. Lara certainly was not prepared for what was in store.
Gambhirs brief but valuable innings was overshadowed by Gangulys downright aggression at setting India rocketing. The only time Ganguly perhaps sacrificed the tempo was in his nineties. It was important for him from a personal point of view to stamp the impression upon the selectors. But in the end, the only blemish on his innings was the run out that cost him the century by a painfully small margin of two runs.
By then, Lara was forced to pull back his fast bowlers and employ Chris Gayle, incidentally the only wicket taker for the West Indies. While Mahendra Singh Dhonis promotion was fairly comprehensible, there remained a fair amount of reservation about Rahul Dravid coming in with about eleven overs to go. There is no question about the skippers reliability. But he has been in a bit of a lean patch lately. Besides he is not entirely the first man that comes to mind when looking to accelerate the innings at the late stages of a one day international innings.
There was a vital reason why Dravid needed to fire. As far fetched as it may sound, when Ganguly was set to return to the Indian team, the overwhelming nationwide reaction was one of euphoria but also, of the fact that Ganguly was very much likely to take over the reins of captaincy in time for the World Cup. There is no denying that Ganguly brought a new attitude to how India approached the game and he believed in giving as good as he got. But his antics have been equally embarrassing and with such short duration, it seemed rather illogical to replace Dravid who had not particularly done anything wrong other than being more subtle and less media craving. But public fervour can be strange as can be some of the moves made by the men in high chairs.
To Dravids credit, for perhaps only the third time in his international career, he smashed fifty-four runs off just thirty-five balls to bring about a whirlwind century run partnership with Dhoni in just sixty balls. It elevated India to the colossal score of 338.
Knowing how West Indies operate, danger lurked with Gayle. But Shivnarine Chanderpaul shone in a long time, since taking on and relieving his position as skipper. He has done it before, winning it single-handedly for West Indies. It was frightening for team India because he kept hopes alive right till the final over. Indias overtly defensive strategy to straddle the team with batsmen over an incisive bowler did not allow India to relax in the comfortable cushion of the runs.
What can be argued is Dravids reluctance to accept that a strategic plan could perhaps be modified in hindsight. Where Lara was happy about the way things shaped out in the end, Chanderpaul had an inside view of how the innings turned out, having batted right through it on an unbeaten 149. He was quick to admit that perhaps too much was left to do for the last few overs when perhaps a better strategy was lacking in the middle.
Dravid need not explain his every move for the world to judge. The problem is that unlike Ganguly, Dravid appears less emphatic and even less convinced in front of the lens of the way the team decides to operate on the day. It must remembered that there are greater parts of the country that may know little of language, but perfectly run on body language. Ganguly has survived and is a living champion, for reasons that would beat cricketing sense on certain levels, on the pure basis of his image as an outward example of gunning for victory and taking no prisoners. In a career where sport and entertainment blur, picking a right choice is a popularity question, not a logical one.
From saviour to king? It would be a giant leap for Ganguly. For that, something truly dramatic would have to happen. India will take the relief of the first win for the present moment. No tremors, please.