India completed a fantastic year as far as home one-day internationals are concerned with another victory over West Indies in a topsy-turvy ODI, on a sweltering day in Chennai, to make the series scoreline 4-1.
The focus in dead rubbers is usually on fringe players auditioning for bigger roles, and plenty took centre-stage at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Manoj Tiwary stated his case for a permanent place in an increasingly crowded India middle-order with his maiden one-day century and Kieron Pollard played his finest international innings without managing to complete a herculean task after West Indies' top order did its familiar house-of-cards impersonation.
Those two were the headliners but there were significant contributions from other players scrapping for a place. Andre Russell showed why he should be an automatic pick for West Indies, legspinner Rahul Sharma displayed great accuracy and a cool head in only his second international match and Irfan Pathan caused plenty of excitement with his famous inswingers with the new ball.
India were missing their four biggest ODI batting stars but that didn't prevent their next generation, led by Tiwary and Virat Kohli, from piling on 267 for 6 on a slow-and-low track. Then West Indies' batting floundered against an attack that featured at most one player who would make India's first-choice XI.
Irfan swung out Lendl Simmons first ball, and added the wicket of Kieran Powell soon after. Abhimanyu Mithun, one of the quick bowlers selected ahead of Irfan for the Test series in Australia, also took two wickets with the new ball. When Denesh Ramdin was adjudged lbw in the 16th over, the game seemed over as West Indies slumped to 78 for 5.
Pollard thought otherwise. The slow surface in Chennai is not suited to Pollard's explosive style of batting but that did not prevent him from stroking some effortless sixes down the ground. The one shot he did put some power behind, in the 16th over, cleared not just the rope but the stands as well, landing on the roof over long-on. There were very few slogs in his entire innings; virtually all of his the sixes were hit with a straight bat.
Keeping him company in an attempted revival was Russell, who has already shown his hitting skills several times. He matched Pollard stroke-for-stroke in a boundary-filled stand of 89 runs for the sixth wicket. Caribbean flair may be an old cliché but there was plenty of it in Russell's batting, highlighted by a flick for six over midwicket off Rahul Sharma. He bustled to his 50 off just 37 balls, outpacing even Pollard, though he did get two reprieves from wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel.
It was an athletic bit of fielding that broke the partnership that threatened to take the game away from India. Gautam Gambhir pounced on a Pollard dab towards short third man and scored a direct hit to run out Russell, who carried on running to the pavilion. Sammy failed once again but that still didn't stop Pollard from believing.
He farmed the strike and sprinkled in the odd nonchalant six in what was easily the longest innings of his international career. His wait for a first international hundred seemed set to be extended when he thumped Rahul Sharma to Kohli at long-on when on 99, but Kohli shelled the straightforward chance. With only the final wicket remaining, a rain of boundaries followed from Pollard before one mis-hit ended the game; he holed out to Ajinkya Rahane at long-off to leave West Indies 34 runs short.
If that was a special innings from Pollard, there was an important one from Tiwary earlier. It was Tiwary's first opportunity of the series, and he came in with a charged-up Kemar Roach on a hat-trick, three balls into the match. It was only his sixth game for India in nearly four years, spread across four different series. He had never made a hundred even in domestic one-dayers, and his previous highest score in internationals was 24.
He was greeted by a sharp bouncer from Roach, but grew more assured as the innings progressed. A couple of eye-catching off-drives early on eased his nerves, before he started picking off plenty of leg-side boundaries off the spinners. He first steadied the innings through an 83-run stand with Gambhir, whose 31 had a mix of sharp singles and panicky running.
That didn't prove a setback for India though, as Virat Kohli gave another example of his increasing ease at the international level. He worked risk-free singles off seven of his first eight deliveries, and opened up once he got used to the pace and bounce of the track. Kohli and Tiwary put on 43 runs in a five-over spell starting from the 27th over. It was not even the Powerplay and was supposed to be part of the 'boring' middle overs with the field spread out.
Tiwary had been cramping towards the end of his innings, and retired soon after reaching his century. Kohli became the highest ODI run-getter of the year and marched on towards his fifth one-day century of the year, but spooned a catch to long-off on 80.
The final stages of the Indian innings showed how difficult a surface it was to score on. Only three boundaries were hit in the final ten overs, as Sunil Narine proved hard to read, and Anthony Martin and Marlon Samuels didn't offer any freebies. The damage had already been done though, and despite Pollard's best efforts, West Indies couldn't reduce the margin of defeat in the series, which was far more closely contested than the 4-1 scoreline suggests.