Tendulkar Excels; Windies Fail to Seize Moment
Sun, Nov 3, '02
The third test at the Eden Gardens did not quite have the finish that West Indies supporters may have been dreaming about, but the truth is that there was a fair amount to cheer about in what turned out to be an enthralling test match for all but the last half day. The signs of resurgence among the West Indian ranks, and the masterly batting of one of cricket's great batsmen made the final day at Calcutta a day to remember.
The day started with India a mere 56 runs ahead. An early wicket
or two would certainly have put the West Indies in a position to
force an outright win. Indeed, with any of the West Indian teams
between then 1970s and mid 1990s, the odds are that this position
would have been a launching pad for an easy victory. Not only does
the present West Indies team lack the talent and application of
those teams, it also lacks what could be termed the 'winning
habit'. Indeed, if anything, this team has the opposite, the
ability to contrive defeats out of drawn or even won matches.
When any team has not won for a long time, subtle changes take place in the mindset of the team, which reflects in the tactics. Gone is the urge to to identify the critical moments in a match and the ability to seize them.
Carl Hooper's captaincy on the final day at Eden Gardens showed just this deficiency. This is not so much due to a flaw in Hooper's strategic thinking as it is a product of the circumstances of his side. This team has suffered defeat after defeat, not only under Hooper, but also under atleast three of his predecessors, Walsh, Lara and Adams. As a result, Hooper and his team, having begun the Indian innings so brilliantly, seemed to lose self-confidence and direction as soon as the Indian team showed the slightest sign of a fight.
Hooper began proceedings by bowling himself and Mervyn Dillon. It was unusual of him to take the ball, but he definitely troubled both Tendulkar and Laxman in his first over. Tendulkar in particular could have been dismissed at leg slip once, and played another risky shot off his hips as well. On both occasions, Ridley Jacobs was slow to react, though the fact that Hooper bowled with two short legs must have made the line of attack obvious to him. Both those shots fetched boundaries, and Hooper ended up conceding eleven runs in the over. Off his next over, Hooper gave away another eight, and promptly pulled himself out of the attack.
Mervyn Dillon, who bowled at the other end, also seemed to lack an understanding of his role. He did not bowl flat out as he did in the last test, when a brilliant spell at the start of the day saw him dismiss Tendulkar, who was similarly unbeaten overnight. On the final day at Calcutta, however, Dillon seemed to bowl within himself, perhaps because the new ball was due in sixteen overs, and he knew that he would be required to bowl with the new ball.
When it was obvious that Dillon was unable to penetrate the defences of the Indian batsmen, Cameron Cuffy, yet again was the unlikely choice to replace him. On what basis Hooper thought Cuffy would trouble the batsmen more than Powell or Lawson is really beyond explanation. One can only surmise that Hooper lacks the confidence in these two quick, but inexperienced bowlers, and would rather bank on Cuffy, a known quantity. As things turned out, Cuffy handed out his usual medium paced offerings at about 128 kph, and scarcely looked like beating the bat. The only effect Cuffy's bowling had, as did Dillon's reserved spell, was to ensure that the Indian batsmen got settled in without any alarms whatsoever.
The West Indian inability to seize the moment was in stark contrast to the approach taken by the Indian batsmen, particularly Tendulkar. The first forty minutes of play saw 44 runs being added, and India's overnight lead swelled to over a hundred before the West Indians could t! hink in terms of regaining the initiative.
The fact that the West Indies were facing a batsman of Tendulkar's caliber made their task that much more difficult. Simply put, there was not a cricketing shot that Tendulkar did not essay during his innings. If he has a failing in these situations, it is to try and go into a defensive shell. Batsmen of his caliber seldom succeed if they rely too much on defence.
On this day, however, Tendulkar found the perfect balance between attack and defence, and simply took the game away from the West Indies. If he essayed any risky shots, as he did against Hooper, they still seemed to be part of a larger plan to dominate the bowling. Some of his shots, made a mockery of the bowling, like the one where he went to sweep Chris Gayle, and then changed his shot and cut him for a boundary. Within about an hour of play, when Tendulkar was well into his assault, the mood seemed to shift so much that one wondered not when the West Indies would bowl out India, but when India would declare their innings.
The second new ball was seen as being the West Indies' main weapon, and Tendulkar's utter dominance of proceedings can be judged by the fact that when the new ball was actually taken, India was on 263/4, Tendulkar scoring an astonishing 162 of those runs. Powell was given the new ball with Dillon, and one wondered if this was because Hooper recognised that Cuffy was ineffective, or whether it was because Cuffy had left the field earlier with a hamstring strain. Dillon strove manfully with the new ball, and Powell bowled impressively as well. There were a few occasions when both bowlers sent the ball whistling past the outside edge, especially Powell, who bowled a very hostile spell.
In the meantime, the West Indies catching seemed to revert back to form, and Chris Gayle grassed a hard hit, but catchable chance at point off Tendulkar. Just a run or two later, Tendulkar slashed hard at Cuffy and Sarwan on the point boundary failed to go for the catch, opting instead to field the ball on the first bounce. The chances given to Tendulkar did not prove to be expensive, since Gayle took a rather similar catch off Cuffy to dismiss the master batsman for 176. However, the psychological effect of those chances cannot be underestimated.
Laxman went on to score a century as well, and the Indian tailenders also got some runs as the match meandered to a conclusion. From a West Indian perspective, the rest of the day was rather uneventful but for some hostility shown by Darren Powell. His Jamaican compatriot, Lawson also bowled well, but without the pace he displayed in the previous test. Whether this was because he thought the pitch at Calcutta did not warrant the effort, or because he was under instructions to concentrate on control is not clear.
However, both Powell and Lawson seem to be genuine prospects, and one could reasonably expect them to spearhead the West Indian attack in a year or two. On quicker pitches, one can be certain that they will be dangerous, especially as they gain experience. On the bowling front, the bright side of this series has definitely been the emergence of these two Jamaican pacemen.
There were also some positives for the West Indies batting, the first being the emergence of Marlon Samuels, whose century in this test was something of a work of art. He has played some good innings in international cricket before, but this one would reckon as the defining one of his career so far.
Wavell Hinds got runs in atleast one innings in each test, even if his approach in the first two tests tended to swing from total defence to unbridled attack. Gayle also played well for his 88 in the last innings of the series, but one wonders if he should not be put under pressure for his place by bringing in Devon Smith into the sixteen for the next series?
Chanderpaul was his usual self against India, the fact that he averages 81 against them should speak for itself. Sarwan was a disappointment, but he definitely showed the ability to handle any bowler in the Indian attack. Whether he will translate this ability into big scores is the big question.
There were also some glaring areas where the West Indies could do with change. One was the opening bowler position, which has been occupied by Cuffy during this entire series, for no good reason. Cuffy bowled in some spells at about Sanjay Bangar's pace, and the time has definitely come for him to concentrate on one-day cricket, where he is such an economical bowler.
The other position that would need close examination is that of the wicket-keeper. In the cricketing milieu of today, it has become imperative for keepers to not only don the gloves with distinction, but to also contribute with the bat. Ridley Jacobs missed more than one chance, made hard work of more than one catch that he did take, and absolutely struggled with the bat. With his lack of ability against spin, he is unlikely to find batting easy against half the teams playing test cricket today. He has been a great contributor to the West Indies cause, especially in recent years, when the West Indies have lost so many games. If he cannot be replaced immediately, the least the West Indian selectors can do will be to pick a very young keeper to be his protege, and sooner than later, his replacement.
The other person who must come in for scrutiny, if not outright criticism, is Carl Hooper. As the situation with the Waugh brothers, especially Mark has shown recently, senior players have to perform constantly if they are to justify their selection. In a sense, the pressure on a senior player to perform is greater than that on a younger player. The failures of a younger player can sometimes be forgiven, as long as he is definitely seen as a future prospect. For a senior player of Hooper's age, on the other hand, unkindly put, there is no tomorrow. The present is all that counts, and Hooper should ensure that he is at the top of his form, otherwise he will be seen as blocking the way of another younger batsman. Carl Hooper has definitely performed creditably since his return to test cricket, but this tour of India, where he did not score a half-century in five innings has not been one of his high points.
As always, tomorrow is another day, and after coming fairly close to winning a test against India in this series, and with Tendulkar's withdrawal from the oneday series, the ensuing oneday series should be fairly even. Should the West Indies maintain the form they have shown in the third test, this series could well given them an indication of how they could be expected to fare in the coming World Cup.