April 12, 2002

West Indies cruise to position of strength

There are always two sides to each coin. And the Guyanese Dollar, I am reliably informed, is one of the more interesting pieces of currency in the world. Apart from the sheer numbers that you use at every purchase, just its look and feel makes it special. And, on the second day of this Test match, two of Guyana's favourite sons sparkled, and the runs flowed. Carl Hooper caressed his way to 233 (402 balls, 29 fours, three sixes), Shivnarine Chanderpaul chipped in with 140, and the West Indies amassed 494/7. India, meanwhile, provided the dull, lacklustre other side to the coin.

At every turn, India were shown up for their lack of imagination. After beginning so well in this Test, pegging the West Indies back to 44 for three, the Indian bowlers utterly failed to trouble the batsmen. These are days in international cricket, however, when batsmen rule the roost, and on wickets of this kind, bowlers become mere whipping boys; a necessary evil; cannon fodder.

Sympathy, yes - for Zaheer Khan. After a dismal end to his bowling on the first day, there were whispers that the strong left-arm seamer was not at his best and perhaps went into the Test with a niggling injury. As if to put to rest such suspicions, the Baroda lad steamed in and bowled a spell that was all character and effort. Sweat and toil in the sun - just no rewards to show for it.

For that a sizeable proportion of the blame must lie at the feet of Sourav Ganguly. With the wicket providing no assistance, Ganguly quickly ran out of ideas. Falling into a set pattern, he gave all his lads a run - Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan mostly, with extended spells for Anil Kumble and Sanjay Bangar following. Sarandeep Singh provided some relief when things got monotonous.

But the common thread in all this was a defeatist and almost hopelessly negative approach. Ultra-defensive fields, tired bowlers, an excited crowd of nearing 10,000, and a captain with nowhere to turn saw India slump lower and lower with every passing hour.

Correspondingly, the Hooper-Chanderpaul pair lifted themselves to greater heights. There's something about the steely glint in Hooper's eyes peeping out of his visor-less helmet that must unsettle bowlers. It is not the dramatic, almost brutal arrogance of the swagger that Sir Vivian Richards brought out to the middle with him. It is not the cheeky, annoying smile that Javed Miandad flaunted in the face of his opponents. It is calm, cool as the moon on a clear winter evening, and it works for him like nothing else.

Surpassing his previous career-best of 178 not out against Pakistan at St. John's, Antigua in 1993, 'Sir Carl,' as he is known in Guyana, caressed his way to his maiden Test double hundred. Finding no cause to take risks or innovate, Hooper played his favourite shots to perfection - the chip over the off-side field, the wristy flick that made the mid-wicket boundary look woefully inadequate, and the drives back down the ground straighter than Robin Hood's truest arrow. When he fell for 233, West Indies were a healthy 494/7.

It would be a travesty of justice if one forgot Chanderpaul amidst the feline grace of Hooper. In some ways an antithesis to his Guyana teammate and skipper, Chanderpaul has played a selfless role in West Indies cricket in recent years. Being shuttled up and down the batting order, the southpaw has been forced to adapt, grit his teeth, and bolster a team in dire need of strong contributors. His contribution on the day was 140 of the safest, unfussy and invaluable runs. Littered with characteristic nudges, pokes and flicks that found the fence 23 times, Chanderpaul's innings helped Hooper add a massive 293 runs for the fifth wicket.

The departure of the two Guyanese batsmen, however, saw a mini-resurgence for India. Clearly a case of too little too late, but nevertheless significant, as there are few things that can break the back of a bowling side like a tail that wags endlessly. Junior Murray fell for a duck, and the West Indies were poised at 494 for seven when the skies opened for the second time in the day. More severe than the earlier occasion, when only a brief stoppage was the result, the showers forced play to be called off for the day.

There are some in the Indian team who might wish that the game itself was called off. It has been that sort of play so far. It is not for no reason that Hooper let some optimism show at the end of the day's play. "The rain is a bit disappointing, but there's still a lot of time left in this match. There's three days to go," said the Windies skipper. India better take that as a warning rather than a casual remark.