Cricket on view has been compelling for most part in the series so far. The bowlers have dominated on lively tracks, which also lend greater meaning and value to the runs made. On an eventful first day of the second Digicel Test at the Kensington Oval on Tuesday, V.V.S. Laxman’s temperament and quality came to the fore. The elegant right-hander’s 146-ball 85 under pressure also took him past 8000 runs in Tests.
As many as 13 wickets fell on the day. India, inserted, was dismissed for 201. Then, the West Indies innings was rocked early. Ishant Sharma, who probed the batsmen with his off-stump line, bounce and away deviation, had Adrian Barath meekly steering a delivery into gully.
And a lovely, late out-swinger from Praveen Kumar found the edge of Lendl Simmons’ bat for ‘keeper Dhoni to hold the edge. Then, paceman Abhimanyu Mithun, a handy bowler to the left-hander since his stock delivery comes into the right-hander, won a contentious caught behind decision against southpaw Darren Bravo in the last over of the day.
The host was on an uneasy 30 for three at stumps with the experienced Ramnaresh Sarwan (10) and the night-watchman Devendra Bishoo (0) at the crease. Earlier, a fired-up Fidel Edwards and crafty leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo triggered an Indian collapse from 155 for four – the side lost its last six wickets for only 46 runs.
Riding on a 117-run partnership between Laxman and Suresh Raina, India recovered from a precarious 38 for four. The right-left pair of contrasting methods disrupted the line of the West Indies bowlers. Then, a lucky break for the Caribbeans changed the course of the Indian innings.
Devendra Bishoo’s line to the southpaw Raina was wrong – the delivery was around the leg-stump – but the extra bounce that the leg-spinner extracted beat Raina. The ball appeared to bounce off the batsman body to Adrian Barath at short-leg. The West Indies appeal appeared a tad belated but umpire Asad Rauf was convinced. A shocked Raina dropped his bat and stood his ground. Replays did not reveal any contact with either the bat or the glove.
Wicketless in the second session, the West Indies cut into the lower half of the Indian innings. Edwards whipped up a scorching burst from the Joel Garner end.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, putting too much bottom hand into the stroke as he attempted to on-drive Edwards, was picked up at mid-on. Umpire Ian Gould had doubts about the legality of the delivery but replays confirmed Edwards had not over-stepped the line.
Harbhajan, with a forward and backward short-leg in place, could not keep a mean short-pitched delivery down and Barath, darting in from short-leg, dived to pluck the ball on the off-side. Laxman attempted to cut a sharp leg-spinner from Bishoo – the West Indian was ripping the ball in this spell – and was held at backward-point.
Edwards has generated impressive speeds in the last session during this series to underline his fitness after rehabilitation – and Bishoo ended the Indian innings soon. Laxman held centre-stage for most part. He stood upright and then brought his dexterous wrists into play. The ball sped past the ropes. It was the touch of class. V.V.S. Laxman not only times the cricket ball admirably but also times his performances when his team needs them the most. Calm and unruffled, he is the man for the big occasion.
The gifted Laxman crossed his 8000 Test runs – this is the elegant stroke-maker’s 122nd Test only and only Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sunil Gavaskar have scored more runs for India – and stroked from the sweet spot in the willow.
Laxman is a wonderful player of bounce – the gifted batsman gets on top of the ball as he ventures into the pull – but can be tentative in his footwork against well-directed swing in the early stages of his innings.
Laxman brought up the first boundary of the Test in the 15th over; the batsman sent Sammy past the mid-wicket ropes with a wristy pull. When the pacey Fidel Edwards dug one in short, Laxman swung him past the ropes.
As his innings progressed, Laxman’s footwork and balance improved. On view was flowing batsmanship. The skilful batsman displayed the rare ability to coax the ball through the gap on either side of the wicket. When the bowlers strayed in line, they were punished with flicks and whips between a squarish fine-leg and mid-wicket. He does seem to possess so much time as he meets the ball. Laxman picks the length early and plays the ball late.
Once again Raina, growing in stature on this tour, handled the short-pitched stuff from the pacemen well. On one brave occasion, he ventured into a pull off Rampaul. Raina’s two front-footed cover-drives off Darren Sammy sped to the fence. The left-hander’s stance is upright and poised. The bat is travelling down straighter and Raina is presenting a solid picture at the crease. When the ball was shorter, he employed the horizontal bat strokes.
Rampaul and Roach were cut to the fence with panache. The pitch eased out in the afternoon but the conditions were demanding for batting in the first session. Rampaul was both incisive and immaculate in the first session as his dream figures – 8-5-4-3 – indicated.
He bustled in and tormented the batsmen with his strong wrist action. India was jolted with a twin-strike right ahead of lunch. A battling Murali Vijay (11) made fatal contact with a short-pitched delivery down-the-leg-side from the paceman. Then Virat Kohli, his confidence in his boots, remained motionless when a short-of-a-good length delivery from Rampaul climbed to kiss his gloves.
With the threat of a short-pitched barrage working on his mind, Kohli was stunned into inaction. Caught at the crease, he simply froze. There was juice in the surface; clouds ruled the sky and a stiff breeze blew across the ground.
But then, the pacemen had to make some tough choices. On a lively track, would they land the ball at a back-of-a-length or bang it in or pitch the ball up and exploit the conditions for swing? Rampaul sent down all three types of deliveries but mixed them in a fashion that adversely impacted a batsman’s footwork.
He took out the left-handed Abhinav Mukund early with a ball that lifted from a short-of-a-good-length. Mukund, unable to drop his wrists in time, was picked up at gully. Meanwhile, Edwards made Vijay smell leather with a lifter. The right-hander swayed away from the line and the ball whistled past his nose.
Skipper Darren Sammy replaced Edwards from the Joel Garner end after the slinger’s sharp opening burst of 4-1-4-0. Under immense pressure to perform, Sammy produced a telling spell of accurate medium pace bowling. The man might have his limitations, but possesses a big heart.
Rahul Dravid in his 200th Test innings at No. 3 – the most by any batsman in this pivotal slot in Tests – was getting behind the line and displaying his trademark tightness in the corridor. Sammy removed Dravid with a peach of a delivery that gained in height from a back-of-a-length and straightened as well; the delivery opened up Dravid.
With the combination of height, high-arm action and effective use of the non-bowling arm, Sammy bowled a compelling line. He was unlucky not to consume Vijay (on 4 then). The opener’s away-from-the-body waft saw a diving Devendra Bishoo, at backward point, spill the ball after getting his hands under the sphere.
Sammy switched the ends of the pacemen, not allowing the Indian batsmen to settle down. Edwards thundered in from the Malcolm Marshall end and was then replaced by Rampaul.
Earlier, Munaf Patel feeling some late stiffness after his stint of bowling at the nets could not make the eleven. Paceman Abhimanyu Mithun replaced leg-spinner Amit Mishra. For the West Indies, Marlon Samuels came in for Brendon Nash. Hindu