Antigua: Rohit Sharma produced his best international innings since his big-stage arrival in Australia three years ago to help India chase down 226 from 92 for 6. Harbhajan Singh supported him with a seventh-wicket partnership full of sensible cricket and worth 88 runs. Rohit stayed unbeaten on 86 to outdo a similar effort from Andre Russell who blasted 92 off 64 to give West Indies a defendable target after they had been 96 for 7. With the result, India took an unassailable 3-0 lead. West Indies last won an ODI series against a Test-playing nation in April 2008.
Without doubt this was the best of India's tour so far. A day when West Indies showed remarkable fight after getting off to the worst start of the series. A day when Amit Mishra mesmerised them with old-fashioned legspin full of turn, drift, bounce, straighter ones and googlies. A day when two tails wagged to provide uncertainty and drama. A day when a young talent announced himself well and proper on the international stage. A day when a young talent who has fumbled with mediocrity played a comeback innings well and proper.
There were also collapses that didn't make for pretty viewing. At 65 for 1 West Indies lost six wickets for 31, India four for 32 from 60 for 2. There were similarities in the collapses. Both began with avoidable run-outs, West Indies' with Ramnaresh Sarwan's and India's with S Badrinath's. Both lost their bats as they tried to make their crease.
West Indies could claim the rest of their collapse was down to some special legspin bowling. During that period, Mishra took three wickets for one run. He set up Marlon Samuels with four legbreaks bowled with a scrambled seam. None of those turned big, and were defended well by Samuels. The change-up was the orthodox legbreak, which drifted, dipped, and then ripped past Samuels who had been lured out of the crease. Debutant Danza Hyatt was done in by a googly, and Lendl Simmons fell to another big legbreak that he was forced to play at.
Simmons fell short of what would have been a sixth fifty in the last seven innings. India, too, lost opener Parthiv Patel in the 40s again. The batsmen who followed played too many shots even with the asking rate under 4.5 an over, and lost their wickets. In between Virat Kohli got a bad lbw decision. Yusuf Pathan's dismissal seemed just as unfair; Simmons had no business back-pedalling from short midwicket - after having instinctively moved in to save the single - to complete an overhead catch well behind his body.
West Indies' comeback in the first half of the day was unexpected because of the way they have been squandering positions of strength. Here Russell and Carlton Baugh did the opposite. The two added 78 for the eighth wicket, but that alone would have been strictly consolation.
To make a fight out of it, West Indies would need something special. And special Russell was in the last three overs, scoring 42 off the last 14 balls he faced. The last two overs of the innings, bowled by Raina and Praveen Kumar, went for 37. Russell just kept clearing the front leg, kept hitting off the middle of the bat, and the ball kept clearing the ground. Russell walked back to an applause from his team-mates who had found a new belief.
While Russell's innings could be seen as one played from a position where he and West Indies didn't have much to lose, Rohit is one man who has it all to lose on this trip. Today he only gained. He tends to be a touch edgy at the start of all his innings, but today his start was the most fluent part of his innings. Coming in at 60 for 3, he went after Darren Sammy who had earlier been on a hat-trick, lofting him for a beautiful six and four off back-to-back deliveries.
Rohit was in a mood to boss the game, but when he saw wickets fall at the other end he went into accumulation mode. Harbhajan proved to be an ideal partner. With the asking-rate still within reach, neither man tried to hit boundaries. There were two boundary-less spells of 10 overs each in the middle of the innings. The first one was during the collapse, and was broken only when Rohit got a low full toss on the pads, moving to 38 in the 28th over.
Ten overs later, he played another beautiful punch, caressing the ball past point for four. The next three overs featured a couple of half chances, a couple of uppish shots that didn't make it to the deep fielder. That's when the game broke towards India. Harbhajan went with the flow and hit a four and a six in the 41st over. Russell, though, hadn't had his last say. Off the last ball of the over, he got Harbhajan with a slower ball.
In a deliberate ploy, Rohit then took the back seat, asking Praveen Kumar to go for the big hits in the batting Powerplay. Praveen's twirls paid off, and Rohit stayed solid at the other end. After hitting the match-winning runs, Rohit pulled out one of the stumps. It could signify a turning point in a career that many believe should have taken off long ago.