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Windies take Day 1 honours
Prem Panicker
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June 23, 2006 01:53 IST
Last Updated: June 23, 2006 03:56 IST


Fine knocks by Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga [Images] enabled the West Indies [Images] end Day One in the third Test against India on a high, on Thursday.

Winning the toss and opting to bat, the hosts ended a rain-shortened the day on 207 for 1.

At the end of the 64 overs that were bowled, Ganga was unbeaten on 64 with Ramnaresh Sarwan [Images] (44) in an unfinished stand of 64 for the second wicket.

Gayle had given the West Indies a steady start, slamming 83 off 127 balls, which was inclusive of eight fours and five sixes. He and Ganga put on 143 for the first wicket.

Post-Lunch session

Two dead-locked teams, needing to break the impasse, got the third Test at St Kitts off to the most sober, sedate start of the series.

The pitch invariably has been the focus of attention throughout the tour; this one revealed its character in one early statistic. The two Indian seamers Munaf Patel [Images] and Srikumaran Sreesanth [Images] (in for VRV Singh) came out seemingly intent on bowling as straight, and as full, as they possibly could.

That line and that length tells you something: there is, this early in the game, very little intrinsic help for bowlers on this deck, a factor that helped Brian Lara [Images] decide on first strike after Rahul Dravid [Images] called wrong at the toss.

The ball is coming on quite nicely; the only way to curb strokeplay is to bowl wicket to wicket on the very full length. Through the first 15 overs, the two Indian seamers deviated only thrice from that line and that length - and those were the only occasions when the West Indies openers had an active role in proceedings.

After bowling three straight maidens - and, in the process, getting some swing in the air under overcast skies - Sreesanth in the 8th over bowled a touch wide outside off, and Darren Ganga promptly drove him through the covers. Later in the same over, the bowler again strayed a touch outside off, and Chris Gayle promptly leaned back, to get under the ball and power it back over the bowler for six.

The next aberrant ball came in the 17th over, and again a short, wide delivery from Sreesanth was slapped flat and hard over point off the back foot by Gayle for another six.

The rest of the time, the two openers were content to keep their heads down and their bats straight, digging out deliveries at close to yorker length and occasionally deflecting dangerous ones away from their pads.

A 20-minute rain break after 8 overs had been bowled meant the West Indies openers had to come back and dig in all over again; once they got back in, and once the two seamers went out of the attack, Gayle in particular prospered against the spin of Anil Kumble [Images] and Harbbajan Singh (coming in as replacement for Irfan Pathan [Images]).

In the 22nd over of the innings, Gayle launched Harbhajan very languidly over the long on boundary; a couple of deliveries later he went the other way, lofting him high over the long off fence. An over later, the opener floated his front foot a long way forward to cream the offie through extra cover for four, and reached his 50 off 76 deliveries.

The breakdown of that knock is pretty much a report on how play went in the session: against Munaf, Gayle faced 12 deliveries and got three runs; against Sreesanth, it was 21 runs off 38 deliveries, 16 of those runs coming by way of two sixes and one four; against Kumble Gayle got 6 off 13 faced, and against Harbhajan, 21 off 14 at that point.

The shot of the morning though came in the over after he got his 50. With a man right on the line at long off, Gayle glided down the pitch, and hit the flattest shot you've ever seen - it skimmed above the ground, never climbing to more than 12, 15 feet tops, and sailed over the long off boundary, a few feet past the man posted there for the shot.

Patel had to take over from the expensive offie (Harbhajan 6-0-42-0 in his first spell); at the other end, Kumble focused on bowling as the seamers had done, keeping it full and straight and putting a bit of a premium on fancy strokeplay.

The way the West Indies openers approached the innings confirmed Brian Lara's pre-toss theory, that his best bet was to turn the Indian play book against them: bat first, dig in deep, bat big in helpful conditions and look to use the weight of runs to put pressure on the opposition.

Thus far, the Windies have stayed within the tramlines of that playbook; they have eschewed risk as much as possible and focused on denying the bowlers a break through, while showing a willingness to wait for their runs.

With a score of 108/0 at tea after 31 overs on day one, on a pitch playing easy and with Brian Lara poised, at least on the stadium scoreboard, to come in next, the home team is sitting pretty. India, on the other hand, knows it is in for a leather-hunt, of the sort it subjected the opposition to in two successive innings in the previous two Tests.

Post-Tea session

Through the session, the West Indies adhered grimly to their game plan, and to the crease, showcasing a discipline that hasn't been in much evidence thus far this series.

The batsmen dug in, and deep, intent on crease occupation; against that, India's best - perhaps only - ploy was to bowl tight lines and keep the runs from piling up at too rapid a pace.

Superficially, you had to say India succeeded - but the lurking danger is that of a solid platform being constructed, here, for the likes of Brian Lara and Dwayne Bravo [Images] to dance from, and you had to say most of the bricks are in place for that platform.

Munaf Patel, who bowled an outstanding spell after tea, getting the ball (one aspect of this track to keep in mind is that it seems more abrasive than the two previous ones; the ball is wearing out faster, and consequently going Irish) to reverse on length and posing problems to both batsmen.

The 38th over was an example - the fourth ball straightened down the channel; Chris Gayle raised his bat high, and watched in horror as the ball seamed back in to send the off stump walking. (Gayle 83/127; 143/1; 30 off those runs in 22 deliveries off Harbhajan).

Ramnaresh Sarwan, coming back in at three, began with a flicked four off his pads off the first ball he faced, but off the last ball of the same over, was lucky when he pushed forward to a good length delivery outside off, and found the ball cut back in to take his pads.

With Gayle gone, India tightened things up further, switching its seamers around while keeping Kumble on for long spells at one end. Sreesanth, who like Munaf got the ball to do things off the deck in this session, was unlucky when in the 43rd over, he beat Ganga with a delivery seaming away late to find the feather edge, only for the appeal to be turned down (Ganga at that point 48/122; Windies 155/1).

At the other end, Kumble had a couple of very good LBW shouts turned down against Sarwan, who as in the previous game continued to play the leg spinner with bat well behind pad.

Through overs 35-50, a mere 29 runs were scored. The thing about pressure, though, is it takes a tremendous amount of concentration to keep it up - and Kumble, frustrated by LBW appeals and even a bat-pad catch being turned down by umpire Brian Jerling of South Africa, lost the plot in the 53rd over and dragged the ball down short on two occasions, allowing Sarwan room to cut him first behind, then through, point; the batsman then shimmied down to cart the leggie through midwicket in the next over.

While on this phase, I suspect Kumble did himself no favors by occasionally appealing for rubbish, or very marginal calls - a debutant umpire deluged with a stream of shouts, at least some dodgy, is apt to get bull-headed about it and turn them down for spite.

Of the two batsmen, Ganga was content to sit on the splice, defending doggedly and making runs almost by default; at the other end Sarwan, after a very edgy start, began looking to dominate, first taking to Kumble and then caressing Bajji against the turn through the cover in an almost dreamy fashion. The first 50 runs of their partnership exemplified this: Ganga's contribution was just 13 off 68 deliveries, while Sarwan had 36 off 62.

Harbhajan Singh [Images] bowled somewhat better in his second spell, coming on late in the day - but only somewhat. His problem throughout the day has been an inability to find the optimum length and stay there; each over has been a mix of too short, too full and on the spot, and that has cost the offie, and his team.

At the other end, Virender Sehwag [Images] (whose face splitting smile alone is indicator of how much he is enjoying bowling, these days) took the ball in the 60th over and in his very first over, had a very good shout against Ganga go the way of the batsman (196/1 at that point; 60/176 Ganga). Unlike his off-spinning partner, Sehwag focused on bowling very full, and between the wickets, giving the batsman almost no room to maneuver.

West Indies closed on 207/1 off 64 overs. The platform is nicely in place; Brian Lara is padded up in the hut and at the end of the truncated first day, the home team has everything going for it. The Indians, on the day, restricted the potential damage, but absent a very good first session on day two, could be staring at both barrels.

India's tour of West Indies: The Complete Coverage

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