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Windies strike after Harbhajan's five-for

Last updated on: June 25, 2006 04:22 IST


The West Indies grabbed two wickets to put India on the defensive and take the honours on day 3 in the third Test, in St Kitts, on Saturday.

At close, India were 151 for 2 in their first innings, with captain Rahul Dravid unbeaten on 20 and VVS Laxman on 29.

The wickets to fall were those of Virender Sehwag (31) and Wasim Jaffer (60).

Earlier, Harbhajan Singh triggered a lower order collapse and finished with 5 for 147 as the West Indies were bowled out for 581 in their first innings.

Morning session

When the West Indies got to 500/5 in the 146th over of the innings, the cameras panned to Brian Lara in the pavilion; the West Indies captain, I swear, was shown smiling and coming within a toucher of licking his lips.

Lara has been wanting, through the course of the first two Tests, to get the shoe on the other foot, and see how the Indians liked climbing a mountain; he has finally gotten his chance, and he seems quite kicked about it.

The 137th over, more than any other, underlined two relevant points: Firstly, why Rahul Dravid missed a bet and secondly, why Lara clearly sees a sliver of a chance here.

Sreesanth had been bowling an immaculate line down the corridor, and constantly beating both batsmen with swing and late seam. Allied to that, he was getting the odd ball to kick from back of a length - on day one, he had rapped both Ganga and Sarwan on the knuckles with such deliveries, and he produced several of those today as well.

The events of the 137th over were in fact set up in the 132nd - when Anil Kumble came on for the first time this morning. To the first ball, Shiv Chanderpaul stayed back, let it come on, and cut perfectly through point. To the next ball, he danced down the track, getting to the pitch for a beautifully executed lofted drive over the long off boundary.

Marlon Samuels, who yesterday had taken 60 deliveries to eke out his first 20 runs,came out this morning in a far happier frame of mind than he had yesterday, added to it by creaming a fluent four through the covers in the leg spinner's next over.

Suddenly, runs were bleeding where earlier they had been hard to come by, and that set up the 137th over. Dravid had, for much of this game, taken away point for the seamers, inviting the drive and hoping for the miscue. To the second ball of the over, bowled a trifle wider of off, Samuels obliged, smearing the ball through that gap and finding the fence.

You would think the strategy was working; it was merely a matter of time. But at that point, Dravid removed second slip, and put a man back on the fence to prevent the four. The next ball was closer to the stumps, shaping away late to beat the bat; Samuels nodded in appreciation. The ball after that was identical, but just that touch shorter and therefore, bouncing just that bit more. Samuels shaped to drive off the back foot, the movement and bounce got the edge, and the ball flashed at a nice catching height to where second slip had been placed at the start of that over.

Inability to stick to the game plan, and a panicky tendency to have the field follow the ball, resulted in India losing a good chance to pull things back - and the two batsmen never gave them another one.

It also brings up the question of why Lara looked happy. While the wicket remains good for batting, there is just that bit of bounce back of a length around the right hander's off stump, and in Pedro Collins he has a bowler who can exploit that. Similarly, the wicket offers movement off the seam - which the likes of Colleymore and Bravo are good at using; and you can pretty much bet that with runs at his back and zero chance of his team losing, Lara likely will have no less than three slips, most times more, through the Indian innings, even if runs flow.

The irony of the let off was underlined when, in the next over, Samuels produced the most delightful shimmy, picking up Kumble with a nice free swing of the bat and lofting him over the long on fence.

The two batsmen moved the score along quite rapidly, in their own ways; Samuels clearly had come out with his driving license and played some exquisite shots (the bounce on this track seems to make batsmen happy enough to play that shot if the ball is pitched up, even if there is movement). At the other end, Chanderpaul stayed back as much as he could, and concentrated on moving the ball around the field.

Halfway through the session, from around over number 147, India clearly opted for Plan B - to sit on the splice, with spinners operating in tandem and as far as possible, bowling defensive lines with the boundaries blocked, to run through overs with the minimum damage possible, on the theory that every over bowled is one less they have to play. In the process, they totally abdicated any hope of picking up a wicket - a somewhat strange ploy, given that there was only Denesh Ramdhin, and the bowlers, to follow and a wicket would at that stage have been more valuable than endless containment.

Curiously, the batsmen opted to play within themselves, not making any special effort to force the pace, but staying content to work the singles where possible. It was a remarkably languid display by both teams; more so by the West Indies since the match situation seemed to dictate a push for the 600 or whatever the declaration target was, so the West Indies could maximize the overs they had to bowl India out twice - and the lack of bright sunshine and presence of clouds indicates that the weather will continue to eat away at the total number of overs possible (at the end of day two, only 125 overs had been bowled, against the prescribed 180, despite play having begun a half hour early on day two).

At the end of 148 overs, the West Indies were 516/5; at lunch, they had limped to 536/5 in 162 overs. The session produced 116 runs off 37 overs and by the time it ended, no one knew what was going on, and increasingly, judging by the total absence of sound from the stands, no one really cared.

Post- Lunch

When a batsman plays a defining innings and gets stranded in the high 90s because he ran out of partners, you tend to feel for him - not this time, though, not for Shiv Chanderpaul.

He did play an innings the utility of which will probably be shaded by the more attacking efforts of Marlon Samuels; once Darren Ganga was gone, it really was up to Chanderpaul to hold the innings together and ensure the West Indies didn't stumble in its search for a potentially match-winning total.

That said, Lara was clearly delaying the declaration to let Chanderpaul get his century, and the batsman played as if he didn't want the honor. In the 168th over, Chanderpaul took a single off the second ball and when Jerome Taylor gave him the strike back, he promptly took another one, then watched as Taylor got himself out.

Lesson not learnt, Chanderpaul again took the single that was gifted to him in the second ball of the 170th over - and watched while Harbhajan Singh fired out the last two wickets in the space of three deliveries, to remain unbeaten on a thoughtfully-compiled 97.

The effects of whatever sleeping pill Samuels and Chanderpaul had taken during the second drinks break of the morning apparently wore off during the lunch interval - the two not out batsmen came out swinging, in style.

Harbhajan bowled the second over after lunch, and to the very first ball, Samuels came skipping down the wicket, his bat moving in a lovely arc through the hitting surface to slam the ball flat, hard, and straight over the bowler for six.

A ball later, the batsman did an encore, varying the shot only marginally to pick out the stands behind long off. He then took a single, and Chanderpaul joined the party, shimmying nicely down the track to chip a remarkable six over extra cover.

In the next over, Samuels blasted Sehwag through the fielder at midwicket to find the fence. To the next ball, he came dancing down again, looking to clear the fence - Sehwag, though, doesn't give the ball as much air as Harbhajan; consequently the shot failed to find distance, and Harbhajan of all people held deep at midwicket, then looked at Sehwag as if to say, what the hell are you doing and why aren't I doing it too? (562/6; Samuels 87/159).

Denesh Ramdhin swept hard at the last ball of the next over for Jaffar, at square leg, to lunge to his left and hold well (570/7; 3/5).

Jerome Taylor, tiring of giving the strike to Chanderpaul, had an almighty heave at Harbhajan Singh in the bowler's next over. Yuvraj Singh ran back from midwicket, avoided an almost certain collision with Kaif running in from a deeper position, and managed to hold a very difficult chance (576/8; 2/5).

In the 170th over of the innings, Pedro Collins was totally at sea against a Harbhajan Singh doosra that he squared up to and pushed at, for the edge to fall into Dravid's lap at slip (581/9; 1/5).

The very next ball was fired in on yorker length. Colleymore, intent on defense, went back and was pinned bang in front of middle stump, halfway up the pad, about four inches in front of the stumps. Brian Jerling turned that one down, too.

This might sound rude, but if the ICC wants this bloke to umpire in more international games irrespective of who he is playing, it needs to sponsor him to a crash course in the LBW law, painted lines on the pitch, and a seeing eye dog. Alternately, the ICC can let Jerling be - and laugh all the way to the bank, collecting fines off exasperated bowlers and fielding sides.

In any case, Harbhajan decided he was onto a good thing and fired in another yorker - again, Colleymore went back, made a complete meal of things, and was bowled through his legs to end the West Indies innings.

Harbhajan, who began the innings in the middle of a nightmare, and found another one awating him after lunch, ended up with five wickets. He has in the past bowled much better for far fewer; the best way of looking at it if you were the bowler would be to point out that he did what India consistently failed to do in the past, firing out the tail with four wickets for eight runs inside 13 deliveries.

Lara has been quite vocal, through this series, on the need for fast bowlers. Jerome Taylor took the new ball, hit the high 80s with his first ball, and two deliveries later almost did for Jaffar with a scorcher. The ball was tight in the channel, it hit back of a length, bounced, seamed away late, squared the batsman up and did everything but find the edge. The next ball found the third man fence off the edge, via a misfield at gully.

At the other end, Sehwag had troubles of his own. The second ball he faced from Pedro Collins saw the batsman hop onto the back foot, misjudging the length. He was hit on the pad, and again Brian Jerling turned down what seemed a good appeal (Hawkeye later showed the ball would likely have just missed the leg and middle bail on the climb). Typically, the very next ball was creamed through point for four.

At the other end, Taylor banged one down, and Sehwag ducked into one that didn't bounce over stump height and got a painful crack on the elbow, accompanied by a huge shout for LBW that Rudi Koertzen this time turned down, likely for height (though this time, Hawkeye showed the ball clipping the top of the leg bail).

The batsman got treated for his elbow, and in the next over, steered Collins from wide of off stump to the left of gully where Darren Ganga dived, clutched, and failed to cling on (Sehwag 12 off 16; India 25/0).

The two seamers kept the hostility quotient up; Jaffar showed far better technique than Sewhag while evading the short stuff or getting right behind the line - and when the bowlers veered off line, hooking and flicking boundaries behind on the leg side. His partner continued in his own fashion, looking awkward against the short stuff and when the bowlers pitched it up, milking runs - a casually flicked straight drive off Taylor being the standout.

That initial burst of aggression from the bowlers, diluted somewhat by Collins' inability to keep his foot behind the line, produced 60 runs in ten overs. Colleymore came on for the 11th over - and took Sehwag out in the exact same fashion as he had, twice, in Antigua. The ball was short, it moved just a trifle inwards off the seam, and Sehwag strangely looked to stand in place and open the bat face - a curious, correction stupid, ploy considering the three slips behind his back. All he managed was to steer it straight to Brian Lara at second slip (61/1; VS 31/45).

Not only was it a nothing shot (there was no way, with three slips and a gully in place, he was going to get a run to a ball that close to his stumps, from that angle), it threw away the advantage of having weathered the Windies opening burst and gotten the conditions back where the batting side wanted them.

Collins, who had been taken for 23 off 35 by Sehwag, was clearly relieved; he rubbed in the mistake made by the Indian vice captain, producing a much tighter maiden in the next over, after looking close to losing the plot in its entirety. Taylor, whose first five overs had also gone for 30, took over from Collins and, in the words of the commentators, "found his rhythm again", now that no one was looking to attack him.

I donno - why, if you were a Sehwag, would you go to the wars, survive, and then gift wrap your wicket in that fashion? The three overs after his dismissal produced 4 runs, and India went in to tea on 64/1.

Post-Tea session

This was the session where Brian Lara made me out a liar.

In earlier reports, I had suggested that given the bounce available on this deck (and clearly evidenced in the opening burst of Jerome Taylor in particular), given too that the West Indies captain had gotten his wish for batting first and putting runs on the board to pressure India with, he would - especially since there was no way he could lose from here - put the squeeze on the batsmen with several close catchers.

Strangely, he started the session with just two slips and a gully and pretty soon, that gully too disappeared despite being confronted, at least at one end, by a VVS Laxman clearly digging deep to try and find a measure of form.

Such pusillanimity, from an Indian captain, would have caused a furor.

Wasim Jaffar seemed to have drunk deep of the confidence that comes from a double hundred in his previous outing - here, he was in control off front foot and back; very assured in his defensive play and very authoritative in his strokeplay.

When Pedro Collins was brought on for Corey Colleymore in the 31st over, Jaffer took to him in a big way. Ball three, a touch full and outside off, was stroked silk-smooth to te cover boundary, with the batsman coming a long way forward to make the shot that got him to his 50. Ball five was short, on middle stump line, and Jaffer rocked back in an imperious pull through midwicket. The next ball was wide of off, seaming away a touch, and Jaffer again moved well forward, almost going down on his back knee in an impeccable square drive.

In the next over Laxman, who till that point seemed hell bent on defense, produced a classical straight drive off Dwayne Bravo, then followed up by reading a slower ball disguised not merely in the hand, but through a deceptive grunt on delivery, and using bhis wrists to flick past the bowler for another four.

Totally against the run of play, Jaffer fell. The ball, from Bravo in the 34th over, was wide of off, and fuller in length - a replica of the Collins delivery he had stroked to get to his 50. Jaffer went for the shot again, but this time didn't get his front foot far enough across to cover the width; the drive found the edge and Lara, at second slip, took a stinging chance with ease (124/2; Jaffer 60/101).

The bowlers, already looking tired, focussed on restrictive, tight lines backed by a field spread in defense; towards close, they had taken to bowling well outside off, clearly figuring their only option was to get the batsmen to chase after them. Dravid and Laxman played the percentages and batted out the rest of the session, taking India that much closer to a draw that has seemed pretty much inevitable by the end of the first session on day two.

At stumps, India had made 150/2 in 47 overs; a possible 180 overs, plus whatever can be bowled in the extra half hour given the early start tomorrow remain in the Test and India are still 230 runs away from avoiding the follow on, but the sort of fields that have been set, and the visible lack of urgency on the part of the fielding team, clearly signal that Lara believes this game is headed only one way, unless the Indians decide to present the home team with an early Christmas present.

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