Different pitches demand different strokes and the cricket on view was very different from what was witnessed in the first two Tests. The contest swung one way then the other. The ball was not quite coming on to the bat on a sluggish pitch.
Dismissed for 204 and reduced to three specialist bowlers, the West Indies fought hard on the third day of the third Test at Windsor Park here on Friday.
Smart cricket from Dhoni, Raina
The host, however, ran into a road-block in the left-right pair of Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The two batted with cricketing nous to provide India an advantage with a crucial 103-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
At stumps India, leading by 104 runs, was 308 for six. Skipper Dhoni, seeking form in the series, was batting on a fighting 65. And Harbhajan Singh was on 12.
Dhoni and Raina rotated the strike and ran hard between the wickets The duo relied more on pushes than drives. This was smart cricket.
It was a day when the absence of the indisposed Ravi Rampaul greatly reduced Darren Sammy’s options. So much so that he had Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s part-time leg-spin supporting Devendra Bishoo for a long period after tea.
Chanderpaul had met with unexpected success when V.V.S. Laxman (56) lifted his back leg for a fleeting moment after actually getting back to the crease; he had let delivery go outside off. Keeper Carlton Baugh, whose glovework has been impressive in the series, had the bails off in a flash. This was a freakish dismissal.
But then, Chanderpaul was unlikely to strike again. Bishoo did get a few deliveries to turn and bounce but there were occasions when he operated to a negative outside-the-leg-stump line.
Gradually, Raina and Dhoni asserted themselves. Raina pulled Bishoo when the leg-spinner dropped one short and then slog-swept Chanderpaul. Perhaps seeking some relief from his working-the-ball-around routine, Dhoni blasted Bishoo through cover.
Raina reached a well-deserved half-century before Fidel Edwards, with the second new ball, had the left-hander trapped leg-before with a delivery that rocketed in; the southpaw had attempted to play across.
The contest between Edwards and Dhoni was an engrossing one. The slinger beat the Indian captain outside the off-stump. There were a couple of occasions when Dhoni, undone by the extra pace, was a tad late on the ball.
But Dhoni found his bearings soon. He thumped Edwards through covers. This was a booming blow.
Rampaul made an appearance towards the end of the day’s play but Sammy appeared to be struggling with a knee strain. The West Indies will look at Edwards to dismiss the Indian lower order quickly on Saturday.
Earlier Abhinav Mukund impressed. He is a left-hander with the right attitude. Mukund is a tough lad who can cut out the frills and play good, hard cricket. The opener, with a fighting 62, came up with his maiden half-century in Tests.
Mukund and Laxman added 98 runs for the third wicket after India was on a worrying 18 for two.
The pitch was on the slower side – the surfaces at Sabina Park and Kensington Oval were far quicker – and Sammy, rightly, has fielders at short cover and short mid-wicket for the miscued drive.
The experienced Laxman comprehended the nature of the pitch. He played the ball late, his dexterous wrists came to the fore and coaxed it to the vacant spaces for his ones and twos.
There were flashes of brilliance – Laxman cover-drove leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo gloriously and swung Darren Sammy with the ease of a natural – but adapted his game to the demands of the surface.
Virat Kohli, with plenty riding on this innings, looked good but could not consolidate on a start. He fell to a Sammy delivery that moved from middle to leg; keeper Baugh plucked a fine leg-side catch standing up.
The West Indies attack was handicapped by the absence of the in-form Ravi Rampaul who was taken to hospital after a bout of vomiting. The illness is not serious but the paceman is unlikely to bowl in the innings. The non-availability of Rampaul meant Sammy had serious problems managing his overs. In fact, he had to bring on occasional military medium pace of Kirk Edwards as the fourth bowler.
Darren Sammy shared the new ball with the fiery Fidel Edwards. The duo, given their difference in height and pace, combined effectively.
This was a big innings for Murali Vijay but the batsman once again appeared tentative. He edged an Edwards delivery in the corridor past the cordon. Edwards consumed Vijay soon when the opener, playing a tad away from the body, nicked a delivery outside off to a delighted Carlton Baugh behind the stumps. Vijay has issues to sort out with his stance and back-swing. His willow is not coming down straight and resultantly he is tending to fall away slightly.
Sammy, a then claimed a prize scalp. Dravid expected the delivery to straighten but the ball came in with the angle to disturb the stumps. India was 18 for two in the 10th over.
Mukund once again displayed solidity. When Edwards unleashed a well-directed short-pitched delivery, he swayed away from the line never taking his eyes off the ball.
He is a sound back-foot player and did punch well through covers. The left-hander once again ‘left’ deliveries outside the off-stump. When the length demanded, he showed the full face off the bat on his front foot.
Mukund collected runs cleverly by working the ball into the gaps. He employed aggression judiciously. The southpaw waltzed down the track and struck leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo past mid-wicket. The southpaw harnessed the pace on the ball to steer and glide Fidel Edwards for boundaries. And an off-drive off Kirk Edwards was sheer timing. Mukund has a future.
The left-hander looked good for more when he was done in by a delivery that, delivered from round-the-wicket, that turned and bounced into him. Attempting to work the ball, Mukund was picked up at short-leg. While Bishoo operating from round-the-wicket and creating the angle against the left-hander made sense, he erred by not bowling more from over-the-wicket to the right-hander. When the leg-spinner adopts this line, he creates doubts in the batsmen’s mind about the whereabouts of their off-stump with his flight and drift.
West Indies 1st innings: 204 all out
India 1st innings : (Overnight 8 for no loss)
Abhinav Mukund c Barath b D Bishoo 62
Murali Vijay c Baugh b F Edwards 5
Rahul Dravid b D Sammy 5
VVS Laxman st Baugh b S Chanderpaul 56
Virat Kohli c Baugh b D Sammy 30
Suresh Raina lbw b F Edwards 50
M.S. Dhoni batting 65
Harbhajan Singh batting 12
Extras: (B-8, LB-3, WD-3, NB-9) 23
Total: (for 6 wkts in 98 overs) 308
Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-18, 3-116, 4-168, 5-172, 6-275.
Bowling: F Edwards 23-3-80-2, D Sammy 26-7-48-2, D Bishoo 35-2-112-1, K Edwards 4-0-19-0, S Chanderpaul 10-0-38-1