The nerveless Shardul Thakur did what the peerless Virat Kohli could not, his most defining cameo powering India to a series-clinching four-wicket victory over the West Indies in the third ODI here on Sunday.
India’s top three — Rohit Sharma (63), K L Rahul (77) and Kohli (85) — fired in unison in a 316-run chase but it got slippery in the end when the Indian captain left the scene with 30 required off 23 balls.
It was then that Thakur, in the company of a composed Ravindra Jadeja (39 not out), smashed 17 runs off six balls with the help of a six and four off Sheldon Cottrell to seal the issue in his team’s favour with eight balls to spare.
This was India’s 10th successive series win over the West Indies.
Displaying panache and patience in equal measure, Kohli made 85 off 81 balls, but got out to an innocuous Keemo Paul delivery with India someway off the target.
But Thakur had other ideas after Kohli became the year’s highest scorer with 2455 runs.
Set a challenging target of 316 in the series-decider, India were cruising at 122 for no loss when they lost Rohit was dismissed for a run-a-ball 63 in the 22nd over.
Rahul (77 off 89 balls) and Shreyas Iyer fell for the addition of 21 runs, and the task became tricky when Rishabh Pant was bowled by Paul.
At that stage, India were 201 in the 35th over but Kohli steadied the ship and took India closer to the target. However, for a change, he could not finish the job.
In the last five years this is the first time Kohli has got out in the 80s or 90s in an ODI chase.
Earlier, skipper Kieron Pollard saved his best and, along with a savage Nicholas Pooran, helped the West Indies post 315 for five.
The Windies left it late with Nicholas Pooran (89) and skipper Kieron Pollard (74 not out off 51 balls) taking the Indian attack into smithereens stitching together a stand of 135 run from 98 balls.
The Indian bowling attack that looked steady during the first 40 overs, knocked 118 in the last 10 overs to get past 300-run target.
The Windies skipper smashed seven sixes and three fours en route to his unbeaten knock while Pooran stepped it up, hitting three sixes and 10 fours in his knock from 64 balls.
Drafted into the side in place of injured Deepak Chahar, the lanky 27-year-old from Delhi grabbed his maiden ODI wicket when he dismissed the in-form Shimron Hetmyer (37), who looked desperate to break free after the Windies were tied down to less than four runs an over midway into their innings.
Coming into the side on the back of a five-for in the Ranji Trophy, Saini impressed with his pace and bounce as he also cleaned up Roston Chase (38) with a yorker for his second wicket in successive overs in a fine second spell of 3-0-10-2.
In fact, Saini would have taken another had Ravindra Jadeja not dropped a diving catch of Evin Lewis in the point when the left-handed opener was on 14.
Promoted ahead of Hetmyer in a surprise decision, Chase was middling the ball and looked to anchor the Windies innings but those two dismissals pegged the visitors back as they looked to recover from a sedate start.
Saini finished with 2 for 58 faltering at the death, while his senior partner Mohammed Shami took the prized-scalp of Shai Hope, eight runs short of a third successive fifty-plus score, en route to his 1/66 which included two maiden overs.
With scores of 102 not out, 78, and 42 in the ongoing series, Hope finished the year with 1345 runs but only to miss out by four runs from breaking Brian Lara’s record of accumulating the most ODI runs by a Windies player in a calendar year.
In pursuit of a 10th successive ODI bilateral win against the Windies, Indian skipper Virat Kohli had everything going in favour of him right from the toss as he pressed the visitors in keeping in mind of the dew-laden conditions.