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An almost laconic win by India over West Indies about two weeks ago must have placed somewhat unfavourable odds against the Caribbean team getting near the business of successfully defending its World Cup title in the shortest version of the game. After a languid curtain raiser in which Chris Gayle's 34 was the sole light in West Indies' dismal 129 for seven, India effected a running start to their programme of matches. Rohit Sharma, 62 and Virat Kohli 54 made it look a veritable no contest. The poverty of the result left skipper Darren Sammy with no choice but to fervently declare his confidence that the poor dress rehearsal would inevitably lead to shining stage performances when they would matter most.

Meanwhile, it was time to allow West Indies fans to do some nail biting. Next episode saw Sammy and his hopeful crew eking out 171 for 7 thanks to palpably poor fielding by host nation Bangladesh. Amid such generosity Gayle put his head down to get 48, but it was a belligerent 72 by Dwayne Smith which laid a seal of authority in the 73– run victory. The questions asked raised concerns as to whether Australia, next in line would prove a much harder nut to crack; the Aussies are coming off a less than agreeable loss against Pakistan.

Predictably, Australia put their better foot forward, recovering bravely to register 178 for 8, coming back from 100 for 5 in which Maxwell 45 stood out creditably and showed the extent West Indies' bowling could be made to look vulnerable against sensible aggression.

Alarmingly, West Indies had never achieved so high a winning run chase. Sensing the need to attack at the outset, both Gayle and Smith realized the value of applying early muscle to the task, Smith went at 50 for one and Gayle slammed 53 without discarding a circumspect outlook. He perished at 101 for 2 and much was left to Sammy with a quick fire 34 off 13 balls to drive home the winning score of 179 for 4 in 19.4 overs. Importantly, the manner of the win was full of psychological momentum in smashing a required 78 for 48 balls.

With each bit of success West Indies had to keep looking over its shoulder. India was sure to win Group II. But with only two teams to make it to the semi-finals, an eye had to be kept on Pakistan one of several dark horses.

They, too, had lost to India in much the same manner as West Indies. Similarly, they beat Australia with 191 for 5 while bowling the Aussies out for 175. Umar Akmal was coming well into form with a match winning 94. Then, to crown it all, the Pakistan batting peaked with 190 for 5, enough for a 50 run win over Bangladesh.

That set up a winner take all showdown between West Indies and Pakistan on Tuesday 1st April at Dhaka. The match proved gripping at the outset. Sent in by Pakistan, West Indies faltered losing wickets at 10, 22, 61, 67, 81 for 5. Then Dwayne Bravo and Sammy took control with a partnership of 72 signposted on Bravo's 46 off 26 balls ended via the run out route. Sammy, as violently strong armed as they come, at the death hoisted an undefeated 42. The partnership was chilling for Pakistan who must have dreaded the prospect of encountering the early type of difficulty West Indies had experienced in their batting.

Their fears were not ill-founded. Against highly purposeful bowling and fielding Pakistan reeled on nought for one, one for two, nine for three, 13 for four, 37 for five, 42 for six, 74 for seven, 75 for eight right on to 82 all out in 17 overs and five balls.

The win by 84 runs was engineered by a tremendous all out team effort in which Samuel Badree snuffed out thee for 10, Narine three for 16, Santokie two for nine and Andre Russell two for 15. The Pakistan disaster was poignantly symptomatic of a tournament phenomenon in which slow bowlers have managed to spew venom right at the start of most innings—particularly under the lights.

This spin venom has accounted for notables like New Zealand, Australia and England making relatively hasty exits from the tournament and in the case of England they were victims largely of failure to hold fairly straight forward catches.

England with 193 for seven must have felt they were under a strong curse at Chittagong where they lost by a mere three runs to South Africa 196 for five. Maybe it was the influence of an African witch doctor that caused Amla to muster 57 and De Villiers 69 not out amid a welter of dropped catches. Yet Imran Tahir's two for 27 proved as potent in wizardry, keeping the English batsmen in subjection. They could not break loose against quickish leg spin.

If all goes according to the law of averages West Indies is due to climax with an arrival at its peak just at the right time and South Africa may well be posted on a similar high. By a strange reckoning the Indians may have shot their bolt and are due for a let down of sorts. The omens should favour West Indies whose bowlers were productive enough to avail Denesh Ramdhim four stumpings in the Pakistan innings. Bowlers seem to have batsmen tied to a string drawing them out of their ground.

At this juncture, we write in advance of the tournament semi-finals and, whatever the outcome, Darren Sammy and his men have made as indelible an impact on the event before the eyes of the world. What's sure, the whole scene of episodes will have cast an aura of fascination establishing T20 International cricket as compelling an attraction responsible for the rise and fall of many along financial stakes. Profound and irreversibly so.


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