Onus Now on Windies Batsmen
Sat, May 11, '02
The day's play resumed with India at 226/3, with both Dravid and
Ganguly looking very solid at close on the first day. West Indies
opened with Dillon and Cuffy, who were operating with a new ball
that was only six overs old. The idea would certainly have been for
them to attack and use any moisture in the track to their
advantage. Dismissing either Ganguly or Dravid would have opened
the Indian middle order up, and would perhaps have given the West
Indies a chance to restrict India to a manageable total.
Both Dillon and Cuffy kept things extremely tight in the morning, with only seven runs coming off the first eight overs. Ganguly was then dismissed, with the score on 233. Cuffy bowled him a slightly slower delivery, inviting the cut and Ganguly hit it in the air, straight to Wavell Hinds, who held a very smart catch. Cuffy's toil on the first day had finally resulted in a wicket.
Even as the new batsman, VVS Laxman, was finding his feet,
Dravid tried to play a forcing shot on the offside to a delivery
that was very close to him, and also rose a little more than he
expected. To his despair, and Dillon's jubilation, the inside edge
knocked the bails off. After a flawless batting display, Dravid was
dismissed for 91. With that dismissal, the West Indies had really
snatched the initiative from India.
Anil Kumble, back in the side after being dropped for Harbhajan Singh, was promoted in the order ahead of Ajay Ratra. Kumble has a reputation for putting a high price on his wicket, and India obviously expected him to support Laxman. Dillon was bowling with a certain amount of aggression by this time, and bowled a very sharp bouncer to Kumble, who took his eyes off the ball. He was struck a nasty blow on his jaw, and had to be attended to on the field. Kumble continued with his innings, but by now, Carl Hooper had placed two close fielders on the leg side, including a fielder right under the bat at forward short leg. Soon enough, Dillon bounced Kumble again and had him caught by Chanderpaul at the backward of the two short legs, almost at a short fine leg.
That dismissal put India at 257/6, and it looked distinctly possible that the West Indies would be able to bowl India out for less than 300. What transpired in the rest of the day would have surprised the most ardent Indian fan.
Ajay Ratra, the wicket-keeper, who had a highest score of 13 in the series so far (with one life) went on to bat with increasing confidence. Laxman, already very consistent in this series, played the senior role in the partnership and the pair batted through both the post-lunch and the post-tea sessions. At close of play, the partnership for the seventh wicket was worth 205 runs, a record for India against the West Indies.
Full credit must be given to both Indian batsmen. Laxman, played some scintillating shots, but still scored rather slowly till his score reached about 60, opened out after that and the runs began to flow. Regardless of the fact that he made the West Indian bowlers and fielders toil in the field, those watching could not have helped but admire the sheer artistry in his batting. The use of the wrist seemed to give him so much control that he could place the ball in the gaps. Several of his drives stood out, but his best shot was probably the one with which he reached his century - a pull off Dillon that rocketed to the midwicket boundary. He only had two test centuries before this one, including one that has been ranked with the best ever seen in test cricket.
Ratra began in circumspect fashion, but opened out later to the extent that Laxman began taking singles to give him the strike. Ratra's innings could perhaps reflect his reaction to his demotion in the batting order behind Kumble, and also to the fact that his lack of runs had put a question mark against his place in the team.
At close, India were 462/6, with Laxman on 124 and Ratra on 93. This position leaves a lot of possibilities open in the match as far as India are concerned, but from the West Indies point of view, a draw would be a fair achievement.
It is tempting to think that the pitch was a sleeping beauty, and that the runs were just there for the taking. After all, at several points, the Indian batsmen looked like putting together a big total, first when Dravid and Jaffer were together, then when Dravid and Ganguly put together a partnership. It was finally done by Laxman and Ratra. But the West Indies must also look back on the day and wonder if there were a few things they could not have done differently. Firstly, with India on 257/6, the West Indies fast bowlers, particularly Dillon, seemed to think the job was done, and eased up slightly. Ratra could have been put under more pressure early on. The short delivery could have been tried, with two short legs in place. Sanford did bowl short to Ratra, as indeed he did for most of the day. Ratra did not look comfortable, but the tactic was not pursued further.
Secondly, with Laxman going for the hook on several occasions, the West Indies either did not have two men in the deep when they pitched short, or did not try the short ball when two fielders were placed there. One hook in particular by Laxman, would have gone to hand if fine leg had been in position. The fielder in the deep was very square, however, and the ball went to the boundary.
Finally, when Laxman and Ratra did start to put some runs on the board, the West Indian tactic seemed to be to wait for the third new ball. In this effort, Hooper, Sarwan and Gayle bowled a few overs, and the three of them gave away 57 runs between them. By the time the new ball did arrive, the batsmen were very well settled. The new ball, as it sometimes does, actually helped the batsmen pick up the scoring rate. Some wayward bowling from Sanford, in particular, did not help the West Indian cause.
That leaves the West Indies in the position they are in now. As it seemed yesterday, the West Indian batting lineup, featuring six batsmen who have all been among the runs recently, will now be expected to bat for the better part of two days and match a very large Indian score. This should not be beyond them, but India has runs on the board, and will be able to apply the pressure atleast till the West Indies go past the follow-on target. This should be a good test of character for the West Indian batsmen. Surely they will be expected to take such situations in their stride if they are going to take their team back to where they once belonged in international cricket.
* Venky Maly is a special correspondent for CaribbeanCricket.com. His daily match reports and analysis will be appearing throughout the remainder of the series.