In a surprising revelation of his destructive side, Sanjay Bangar overshadowed the contrasting centuries by Rahul Dravid and Chris Gayle as India pulled off another memorable victory, defeating West Indies by five wickets in the fourth one-day international here today.
Bangar, known more for his gritty role as a Test opener, produced a swashbuckling unbeaten 57 off just 41 balls with five fours and two sixes which helped India overtook West Indies' mammoth total of 324 for four with 2.2 overs to spare to record the third highest successful chase in the history of one-day cricket.
The victory, which saw India equalise the seven-match series 2-2, revived memories of their stupendous win over England in the NatWest Trophy final at Lord's in July where the Indians had successfully chased 325.
In a match played under unprecedented security due to fears of crowd violence, the batsmen on both sides produced the fireworks as nearly 650 runs were scored in less than 100 overs.
West Indies, invited to bat first by Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly who won the toss, piled up a mammoth 324 for four with Chris Gayle coming up with a big hundred. Gayle was at his destructive best, blasting 12 fours and five mighty sixes as he scored 140 runs off just 127 balls to register his second century of the series and third of his career. He had earlier made 103 in the second match at Nagpur.
Ramnaresh Sarwan came tantalisingly close to his maiden international hundred before being left stranded one run short. Sarwan and Gayle put on 148 runs for the third wicket off just 153 balls that set the stage for a huge total for the West Indies.
However, India were equal to the task even after losing their openers, Ganguly and Virender Sehwag, early in the innings.
Dravid, who is in excellent form these days, came up with a one-day century after a long time and remained unbeaten on 109 off 124 balls. His 103-run stand for the third wicket with V.V.S. Laxman was the foundation that the home team utilised in the final overs to launch the final assault.
However, it was Bangar who stole the limelight today.
Playing only his second one-day international, Bangar came in at a pressure situation with India in deep trouble at 231 for five in the 38th over.
With Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, heroes of that historic victory over England at Lord's, back in the pavilion, Bangar was the last recognised batsman to help out Dravid in reaching the target.
After his numerous slow knocks as a Test opener, Bangar's reputation as a useful but a defensive batsman did not generate much hopes in the capacity crowd at the Motera Stadium here especially since the required run rate was about eight runs an over.
But in an astonishing display of attacking strokeplay, Bangar unleashed a flurry of big hits to take the steam out of West Indian bowlers and also bridge the widening run-ball equation.
Hit hit pace bowler Vasbert Drakes for 15 runs including a six and a four in the 42nd over, which brought down the required run rate to exactly six an over.
It was relatively easy after that even though Bangar kept attacking and hit one more six and a couple of boundaries to put India firmly on path of victory. India needed just four runs from the last three overs and the winning runs were scored by Dravid who took a two off Drakes' on the second ball of the 47th over.
Dravid had survived a number of close calls early in his innings when he started the rebuilding job with Laxman after Ganguly and Sehwag had returned to pavilion with only 45 runs on the board.
Dravid was twice let off by the West Indian fielders who missed easy run out chances while Laxman was dropped by Gayle in the slips when he had scored only seven.
The two recovered from their shaky starts to produce fine innings' with Laxman taking the lead in stepping up the tempo.
As a haze surrounded the ground under lights, Laxman, who played and missed on a number of occasions as he tried too hard to find the boundaries early in his innings, settled down into a nice rhythm and played his natural strokes. He brought up his half-century in 56 balls and hit a couple of elegant boundaries after that before being run out on 66.
Dravid, who was playing second fiddle to Laxman, took the responsibility after the departure of his partner and put on a useful 61-run partnership with Yuvraj Singh who scored 30.
But Yuvraj and Kaif fell in quick succession while attempting big hits and it seemed that India's run-chase had been derailed.
But Dravid, who completed his eighth one-day century in the 45th over, and Bangar ensured that there were no more hiccups and India were back into the series with a resounding victory.
Earlier, Gayle and Sarwan smashed the Indian bowlers all around the park as West Indies piled up the highest total of the series so far.
West Indies scored 80 runs in the first ten overs and 83 in the last ten as all the Indian bowlers, with the exception of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, took severe punishment.
Harbhajan returned figures of one for 30 from his ten overs and was suppported well by left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, playing in only his second ODI, who gave away 46 runs from his quota of overs.
The two spinners put the brakes on the West Indian scoring which had shot up to nearly eight an over after Gayle launched an assault on Ashish Nehra and Javagal Srinath as he raced to his half-century in just 30 balls.
Gayle took 34 runs from Nehra's third and fourth overs, hitting him for five fours and two sixes and 15 from Srinath's fifth including two fours and a six, before Harbhajan Singh and Kartik brought some sanity to the proceedings.
India claimed two quick wickets in the form of Wavell Hinds and Marlon Samuels but Gayle and Sarwan ensured the West Indies run rate did not drop and they batted in a very positive and intelligent manner.
Gayle brought up his century off 99 balls in the 31st over when he took a single against Kartik.
West Indies, who were comfortably placed at 193 for two at the 35-over stage, began accelerating soon after Gayle's century and put on 131 runs in the last 15 overs, thanks also to a unbeaten 27-ball 36 by skipper Carl Hooper who struck five boundaries in the 48th over by Yuvraj Singh.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine