West Indies 245 for 6 (Lewis 100, Charles 79) beat India 244 for 4 (Rahul 110*, Rohit 62, Bravo 2-37) by 1 run
A hurriedly arranged exercise to take a glimpse into the future of cricket economy provided a giddying look into the future of Twenty20 cricket on the field. This was a future of fearless, relentless, calculated, almost unhurried hitting taken to the next level as West Indies first amassed their personal best of 245 only for India to come within two runs of mounting the highest successful T20I chase almost without breaking a sweat.
Evin Lewis and KL Rahul, replacing regular openers Chris Gayle and Shikhar Dhawan, smashed hundreds, but in this future bowlers did deal the consequential blows. India bowled superb wide yorkers to concede just 40 in the last four and 64 in the last seven, but the wily Dwayne Bravo outfoxed MS Dhoni and the centurion Rahul by defending seven runs in the last over. India needed two off the last ball, but Bravo made Dhoni wait and wait before bowling a slower ball that was caught at short third man.
On a day that some batting records were broken and all sorts of others, and low-flying aircrafts, were under threat – Richard Levi’s fastest hundred off 45 balls three times, most runs in boundaries in a team innings, highest T20I score, highest successful T20I chase – the bowling was the story of the day. In particular the last over of the day. When Bravo began it, 483 runs had been scored in 39 overs. Thirty-two sixes and 35 fours had been hit on a flat deck surrounded by short boundaries. Andre Russell, the best T20 cricketer going around today, had just been mercilessly taken for 36 runs in his last two overs. Bravo had no business even hoping to save this one, especially when bowling to a man batting on a smooth hundred and the other renowned to be one of the best finishers in ODI cricket, MS Dhoni.
In ran Bravo, a nine-run 18th over behind his back, hoping to not concede a boundary first ball, to “try to get into the over”. He did way better, bowling a bewitching slower ball, dipping on Dhoni – 40 off 21 at that time – drawing a big edge, but at short third man Marlon Samuels dropped what Ian Bishop called was the “sittest of sitters”. This was the second catch West Indies had dropped; Russell had reprieved Rahul when he was only 36. Rahul had gone on to play a chanceless innings, continuing to run hard despite having been hit on the toe twice.
Back to the frustrated Bravo then. This one was full and outside off, Rahul smashed it into the off side, and now was the time to hope this went to a fielder. Straight to the sweeper-cover fielder it went. Seven required off five now. Still a matter of hoping. Bravo’s next ball was on a length, but smartly he followed Dhoni, cramping him up, conceding just the leg-bye.
If Bravo and Russell were the big goys West Indies went to with only 53 required off the last four overs, Bravo now went to the big boys of death bowling. No more mucking around. Bowl them yorkers. The first one was a low full toss, the original call was two as this went to long-on, but finally, at long last, Rahul had had enough up haring up and down with a badgered toe. Also if there had been a run-out – and there could only have been one at Rahul’s end – India would have had a new batsman facing up with four required off two balls.
Instead we had the cool head of Dhoni. Against his trusted lieutenant for years at Chennai Super Kings. Bravo bowled the near perfect yorker, Dhoni dug it out powerfully, the ball bounced over Bravo’s head, who got a hand to it, slowing it down. Was this absorbing of the blow that cost West Indies the second run here? Would this have been a single had Bravo not intercepted or would it have beaten long-off to end the game right there? We won’t know.
Now time stood still. Dhoni has often destroyed many an inexperienced bowler by bringing the contest to a one-on-one from the 11-on-1 that it is for major durations of the match. The hunter had become the hunted now. Bravo had begun the over with nothing to lose, and now he had left Dhoni in the spotlight. And he left Dhoni on a slow burn. About five minutes went by before he bowled the next ball, but it seemed like an eternity. First a man from the off side was moved to midwicket inside the circle to block that Dhoni bunt into the leg side for a couple. Then once the field was set, once Dhoni was ready to face, Bravo walked back all the way to long-on for another conference with Kieron Pollard and new captain Carlos Brathwaite.
Dhoni had met an equal at mindgames. He had only recently denied Bangladesh when they needed two off the last ball. He was now being given enough time and more whether to go for a boundary or the safe route of getting bat on ball for a single to tie and then see if they could get the bonus second? Bravo, and those who know Dhoni, knew the answer. “Knowing MS,” Bravo said in a flash interview, “I knew he was going to take the safer route.”
Bravo said he wasn’t always sure of bowling the slower ball, but once he saw Dhoni move towards him a little, he pulled out that slower dipping offcutter again. Destiny’s child Samuels, twice Man of the Match in World T20 semi-finals, got another chance as Dhoni edged while trying to push this into the off side for the safer route. Samuels caught it this time. Bravo had taken a stunning catch earlier to get rid of Ajinkya Rahane and had taken the crucial wicket of Virat Kohli without pulling out his Champion Dance, but turns out he had saved it for something special: this.