Normal service resumed in the West Indies as the hosts’ batsmen failed again – this time on a much better batting surface – and India chased 206 down with relative ease to seal the series 3-1. Just like India seem wired to score around 300 no matter the situation or conditions, the number seems to be 200 for them. They got away with 189 in the last match, but on a pitch that the ball came on to the bat, their inability to score freely off the spinners – 76 runs in 24 overs – consigned them to defeat.
In the chase, Virat Kohli overcame his recent short-ball trouble by choosing to tide over the barrage as opposed to hooking everything. He now has more hundreds in ODI chases than anybody else – 18.
The unsung heroes for India, though, were their spinners even though the scoreboard shows just one under the wickets column for them, that too for part-timer Kedar Jadhav. The fast bowlers, who took eight wickets between them, will, however, argue that they cleaned up after themselves after a profligate start. Umesh Yadav in particular struggled with the new ball, bowling either short and wide or full on the pads. Kyle Hope cashed in as he and Evin Lewis added 39 for the first wicket in 8.2 overs. Then he joined brother Shai to add a further 37.
At 3-0-22-0, Umesh was taken out of the attack, and was brought back soon after the fielding restrictions were taken off. He bowled two overs for four runs, then Kyle Hope attacked him with two boundaries and fell while going for a third. The ball was short enough, but the batsman failed to clear short midwicket. Umesh swooped in on that break with a full and straight delivery to send Roston Chase back first ball.
The stage was now for spinners to cut off the oxygen supply. Ravindra Jadeja found turn, Kuldeep Yadav remained difficult to negotiate, and Jadhav’s low, round-arm, non-turning, slow offbreaks sent back a frustrated Jason Mohammed.
Walking in at 115 for 4 in the 31st over, Jason Holder used his long reach to put the spinners off their rhythm. He hit four fours, and a six off Hardik Pandya, but when he went to hit Shami straight down the ground he found an agile Shikhar Dhawan at long-on. The going was tough for West Indies after that.
And before that. There had been an 11-over spell without boundaries before Holder, and after Holder they managed only three boundaries, which incredibly were the first ones they had hit past the 40th over all series. Two of those were sixes in the last two overs from Rovman Powell that pushed West Indies past 200. Still they knew they needed lightning to strike twice if they were to defend this.
For a moment it seemed lightning might indeed strike twice when Dhawan went back in the first over of the chase, again driving on the up and failing to keep the ball down. In the fourth over, it should have become two down but Devendra Bishoo dropped Ajinkya Rahane at point. Rahane didn’t go on to take his streak of 50 or more to five, but he added 79 with Kohli to set India on their way.
More importantly, Rahane’s urgency and early boundaries meant Kohli could take his time dealing with the short ball. In the previous matches, his eagerness to score, a dominating batsman’s ego if you will, had got the better of him, but here Kohli was prepared to wait it out. He kept ducking, weaving and leaving bouncers before he finally hooked in the ninth over, at least the eighth bouncer bowled at him. This was smoked clean in front of square for four with the wrists managing to keep it down.
The bouncers now came down to the occasional ones. Rahane reached his slowdown period now with the ball getting older, but slowly – and a little gingerly – Kohli began to dominate. It helped that there were quite a few loose balls on offer, especially from West Indies’ legspinning talisman Bishoo.
As Kohli got more and more comfortable at the wicket, he began to put away even the good balls, as he did with a late cut off an Ashley Nurse length ball to move to 68 off 80. He moved to hundred in another 28 balls, unleashing an emotional celebration. Dinesh Karthik, playing only his second ODI in three years, provided Kohli good support, scoring a fifty of his own.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo