India infused drama and excitement into an otherwise easy run-chase before carving out a three-wicket win over West Indies in the penultimate one-day international here today to keep the seven-match series alive.
In the first low-scoring match of the series, India bundled out West Indies for 201 in 46.3 overs, setting themselves a modest asking rate of 4.04 runs an over.
The home team made a complete mess of the meagre target, compared to the totals the two teams have chased in this series, before scampering home in 46.2 overs to square the series 3-3.
Rahul Dravid, captain of the side in absence of Saurav Ganguly, led from the front topscoring with 58. His 99-run association with Yuvraj Singh helped India recover from the early loss of three wickets. Yuvraj scored 54 from 64 balls with six fours.
But both the batsmen got out in quick succession as India lost three wickets in two overs with the addition of just one run to land in trouble in the 35th over.
But India's Man Friday Mohammad Kaif and his new-found ally in that role, Sanjay Bangar batted sensibly after that to bring their side within sniffing distance of victory. With 15 runs required for win, Kaif got out for 15 but Bangar and Ajit Agarkar carried the team through.
Bangar remained unbeaten on 32 off 38 balls and Agarkar, later declared man-of-the-match for his three wicket haul, on six.
The victory, which continued the trend of the team batting second finishing the winner in this series, meant that Dravid has now won all the three matches he has led India in. He had earlier led India to victories against Zimbabwe at Rajkot in 2000 and Sri Lanka in Colombo last year.
The two teams now move to Vijayawada for the decider on Sunday.
Earlier, the newly-discovered batting might of West Indies crumbled for the first time in the series, thanks to some fine bowling performance by left-arm spinner Murali Kartik and all-rounder Agarkar, both of whom claimed three wickets apiece.
Only top-scorer Shivnarine Chanderpaul and skipper Carl Hooper could put some resistance, scoring 58 and 38 respectively but the other batsmen failed to supplement their efforts and West Indies slide started early in their innings.
India did not have a good start either as they lost their first three wickets with just 48 runs on the board. The flamboyant Virender Sehwag was out after scoring 18 runs off 20 balls with three boundaries while Ganguly's replacement Dinesh Mongia could manage only five.
When V.V.S. Laxman was out to a spectacular one-handed catch by Chris Gayle after making seven from 19 balls, West Indies looked to be fighting back into the match.
But Dravid and Yuvraj batted comfortably thereafter, scoring runs easily to seize the initiative back for the home team.
Dravid, who is in very fine form this season, played a few glorious drives and cut shots, bringing up his 50 from 66 balls that contained five hits to the fence.
Yuvraj took some time to get going but once he found his rhythm, he toyed with the West Indian attack. The duo took the score to 147 in the 34th over when everything started going wrong for the Indians. Yuvraj, who completed his eighth one-day half-century, chipped a simple catch to Ricardo Powell when Corey Collymore came to bowl in his second spell.
In the next over, Dravid fell in a similar fashion, once again giving a catch to Powell, but this time the bowler was Vasbert Drakes who had earlier dismissed Mongia and Sehwag.
Sodhi, playing for India after a gap of one year, frittered away a good opportunity to make an impression on the selectors ahead of next year's World Cup, when he attempted an unnecessary big hit, only to scoop the ball in air for wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs to complete an easy catch.
Kaif and Bangar put on 30 runs for the seventh wicket before West Indies revived their hopes with the wicket of Kaif. But Bangar and Agarkar poured cold water over their chances.
Earlier, Kartik and Agarkar unsettled the West Indian innings with their early strikes. For the first time in the series, West Indies faced starting troubles with three-time centurion in this series, Gayle and his opening partner Wavell Hinds, who had struck a blazing 61-ball 80 in the previous match at Baroda, finding the going very tough against Javagal Srinath and Agarkar.
Srinath passed the outside edge of the bat on many occasions but it was Agarkar who claimed the first wicket. Hinds, who took as many as 25 balls to open his account, gave a catch to Mongia at deep midwicket three balls after he scored his first run. West Indies lost their first wicket on 34 in the tenth over.
Kartik then destroyed the West Indian batting line-up in a devastating first spell of 7-1-17-3 that left the visitors panting at 74 for four in the 25th over.
Chanderpaul, Hooper and Ricardo Powell were then involved in the recovery act that saw West Indies add 75 runs to their total between the 30th and 40th overs. All the three batsmen played positively and showed aggressive instincts but were dismissed just when they were starting to consolidate.
Chanderpaul and Powell put on 61 runs for the fifth wicket before Powell, who struck run-a-ball 29 with two fours and a six, fell leg before wicket to Sehwag.
Chanderpaul raised his half-century off 54 balls with his fourth boundary but was dismissed soon after that. Agarkar, coming in his second spell, induced an outside edge from Chanderpaul's bat which Dravid accepted without any difficulty. Chanderpaul struck four fours in his 64-ball knock.
Ten runs later, Bangar rocked the West Indian innings with wickets off successive balls. Hooper, who played some fine shots including two boundaries and a six off Sehwag, lobbed a simple catch back to Bangar while Drakes was clean bowled by a perfect yorker.
The West Indian innings folded soon thereafter, as the last two wickets fell for the addition of eight more runs. Agarkar finished with three wickets for 24 runs.
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