West Indies put up their best show in the T20I series, with their batsmen having their best day collectively, but it wasn't enough to deny India a 3-0 sweep, with terrific bowling upfront by Deepak Chahar complemented by a match-winning partnership. Kieron Pollard's first T20I half-century in more than seven years took West Indies to a competitive 146 for 6, but half-centuries by Virat Kohli (59) and Rishabh Pant (65*) and their century stand for the third wicket meant India hunted down the target in 19.1 overs.
The Chahar effect
Deepak Chahar reduced West Indies to 14 for 3 inside four overs, taking out the top three and getting the ball to hoop around corners and jag both ways. It was a magnificent exhibition of swing bowling, yanking batsmen out of position, hands following the ball, feet not in sync. Chahar bowled three overs on the trot, and had figures of 3 for 4 at the end. He wouldn't complete his quota, but his strangulation at the top meant India could come out of the Powerplay with hardly any runs conceded. On a pitch that offered turn to the spinners and held up a bit, and with short boundaries, that was crucial.
Rahul Chahar - Deepak's double first cousin - was making his international debut and fulfilling a childhood dream of the two playing for India together, but the leggie had to cede the limelight to the seamer.
In his first over, with Sunil Narine facing up with the specific mandate of going after the bowling but not all that great a range in strokeplay, Deepak kept his lines tight at the start. Then he threw one a bit wider, but it was still nibbling in the air. With leaden feet, Narine could only toe-end a flat-bat hit to Navdeep Saini at mid-on. Both Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyer fell in Chahar's next over, done in by balls that most left-hand batsmen would have fallen to. Both times, Chahar slanted the ball across them, and got it to swerve back into the batsman as if it was a Formula 1 car taking a hard left. Pads were rapped, appeals were belted out, and fingers were raised. Lewis even burned a review for his team, though to be fair to him he might have thought the ball was missing leg - it wasn't, because the initial angle had dragged him far enough across.
The start was rocky, but the depth and power in West Indies' batting meant they could kick on nonetheless and still end up with an adequate total. Pollard, back at No. 4, showed off his power with several clean hits down the ground. He hit six sixes, which meant that even though there were periods of dot balls building up, getting the run-rate back into healthy territory was only a hit or two away. Pollard fell to a Navdeep Saini slower ball, but Rovman Powell - fresh off a power-packed half-century in the second T20I - showed he wasn't a one-hit wonder with a rollicking finish that took West Indies past 140, and might have also taken him into the wishlists of several IPL franchise owners.
The Kohli and Pant stand
With Kohli taking control of the chase and Pant showing his full repertoire, India's innings never entered choppy waters. Two shots each by both batsmen stood out. Pant twice drove Keemo Paul inside-out over extra-cover, the ball pinging off the bat and flying over the boundary. The execution of the shot was stunning enough both times, but the fact that Pant could conceive of the shot was extraordinary in itself. Pant would hit his trademark unorthodox shots too, including a reverse-sweep and an audacious flick, but those drives were shots associated more with pitches where the ball comes on nicely and 200 is par.
Kohli too had his wow moments. A ball after he had seen a leading edge off Carlos Brathwaite fall in no-man's land but hang in the air long enough to steal two, he unleashed a cover drive that landed millimetres inside the cover boundary. Two balls later, facing Paul now, Kohli sent the ball whirring to the deep midwicket fence, whipping through the line with wrists of steel and timing of silk.
The two had come together at 27 for 2 in the fifth over, under a bit of a cloud for both. Pant had fallen cheaply in the first two T20Is, and while Kohli had managed to stick around longer than Pant, he hadn't looked fluent. In this game too, they played within themselves at the start, getting used to the pace of the pitch, and then began opening out. They ended up adding 106 in just 12.5 overs, with the last five overs of the stand yielding 55 runs. It was a stand that finished the match off as a contest, but Pant ensured there was a flourish at the end nonetheless, driving Brathwaite straight back over his head and into the sightscreen for the winning hit.