April 24, 2002

WI Fall Away

PORT-OF-SPAIN - There was drama all the way through that drained the emotions and left finger nails chewed to the quick.

There was both the unexpected and the predictable and a bit of controversy to spice the ending. But the storyline on the final day of the second Test did not follow the script prescribed by the West Indies and the heroes were on the other side.

Always striving to regain parity after India were sent in and compiled 262 for four on the opening day, the stoic West Indian effort finally exhausted itself just over an hour into the final session yesterday as they were dismissed for 275 in pursuit of a winning target of 313 to lose by 37 runs.

An involved, colourful crowd of around 12 000, most heavily packed into the open Carib Stand, savoured every ball, willing the West Indies to an exceptional victory, but had to leave crest-fallen.

They exploded at every boundary with the sound of a volcanic eruption. They booed in unison for the numerous roared Indian appeals, of which none was given.

They applauded defensive blocks by the inadequate West Indian tailenders and cheered wildly even for Indian wides and no-balls.

But they were also dumbfounded by the fall of their two likeliest match-winners, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper, in successive overs from the young left-arm swing bowler Asish Nehra an hour into the day and the customary collapse of the last six wickets for 38 that brought an end to an engrossing match.

In the two hours, ten minutes in between, expectations were encouraged by an untroubled fifth wicket partnership of 73 between the two contrasting left-handers, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle.

It was the only significant West Indian resistance and, in the end, the flags fluttering highest and the faces wreathed in smiles were east, not West, Indian.

They were celebrating India's third victory in their 34 Tests since they first came to the Caribbean in 1953 and on the same Queen's Park Oval where they gained their previous two, in 1971 and 1976.

In those triumphs, their bowling heroes were the magical spinners with magical names, Prasanna, Bishen Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan.

This time, they decided swing and seam would be their key to success, excluding their celebrated leg-spinner Anil Kumble to accommodate three fast bowlers, Nehra, his fellow left-armer Zaheer Khan and the experienced Javagal Srinath.

Villified at home, they were vindicated by the outcome.

The 22-year-old Nehra, in his first match of the series, seized the initiative with the wickets of Lara in his first over and Hooper in his second after which it was obvious a West Indian victory would depend on Chanderpaul, short and slim, and Gayle, tall and powerful.

They responded with level-headed play that threatened Indian captain Saurav Ganguly with a nervous breakdown but, with a low order that had managed an average of 14 runs from the last four wickets in the previous six Tests, they would have to bat to within a few runs of the target.

They couldn't manage it.

The West Indies resumed 182 short of their goal at 131 for two with their fortunes seemingly dependent on the stand between Lara and Hooper.

Lara was 40 at the start but it was immediately evident he was gripped by the tension of the moment.

He had not managed a hundred in his eight previous Tests at the Queen's Park Oval that has been his home ground for club and country and there was no better time to make the breakthrough.

Yet his uncertainty was clear when he signalled to the usually bacchanalian "Trini Posse" Stand to mute its music even before facing a ball.

He spent an uncharacteristically nervous hour adding seven when he sparred at Nehra's fourth ball that left him with an angled bat and edged a catch to Rahul Dravid at first slip. The method of dismissal was similar to that in the first innings when Zaheer was the bowler.

The Oval was as hushed as the nearby Lapayreuse Cemetery as Lara turned and headed back to the pavilion. It was to remain so for some time.

Positive from the start, Hooper stroked three boundaries in moving from one to 22 but, in Nehra's next over, was out of position for a pull shot, tugging the ball from outside low off-stump low to Shiv Sunder Das at mid-wicket.

The Indians whopped with joy at their crucial successes that left the West Indies 164 for four with Chanderpaul and Gayle the last specialist batsmen to be followed by the shaky wicket-keeper Junior Murray and the four negligible fast bowlers.

Chanderpaul, as aggressive from the start as he was in his first Test 140 at Bourda, and Gayle, 21 as he resumed his innings interrupted by forearm cramp the previous day, saw the West Indies through to lunch at 210 for four.

The mood around the ground was altogether more optimistic as the pair batted through nine overs with the second new ball on resumption without alarm.

Ganguly, by now chewing on his fingers and conversing with his bowlers after almost every ball, replaced Nehra with the less menacing Zaheer.

The crowd's roar after he sent his first ball so far outside Chanderpaul's off-stump it was signalled wide immediately changed to shocked quiet when Gayle carelessly slapped the next delivery straight and chest-height to cover.

The 22-year-old Jamaican batted with astute judgement for 176 balls all told for his 52, quick to put away the loose balls as his eight fours indicated. But his demise set off the almost inevitable after-shocks.

Junior Murray, all pent-up nerves after the ducks in his previous two innings, got an ironic cheer when he got off the mark but promptly and ridiculously ran himself out - probably right out of the team.

He charged down the pitch as Srinath's delivery deflected fine on the leg-side and, as Chanderpaul turned him back, was well short on wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra's return to Sunder Das by the stumps.

Next ball, Dillon's middle stump received an awful crack as he played back and the match was as good as over.

Marlon Black spent 24 balls as Chanderpaul's partner, then gloved Srinath's lifter to short-leg, Adam Sanford's ambitious drive at Nehra took leg-stump by way of inside edge in the over after tea and, after 55 minutes and 29 balls of solid forward defence, Cameron Cuffy steered Zaheer to gully to complete India's victory.

Chanderpaul remained until the end, unbeaten 67 after four and a half hours and 162 balls of solid resistance. But for a baffling decision on the television replay by third umpire, Eddie Nicholls, he, not Cuffy, would have been the last wicket and India would have won by 43 runs, not 37.

Standing umpire Asoka deSilva sought Nicholls, verdict on whether Chanderpaul's edge off Srinath was a bump-ball catch to the diving wicket-keeper Ratra. The Indians were aghast when the green light flashed to keep Chanderpaul in for several replays indicated an authentic dismissal.

In the end, it was immaterial but it was a final exclamation mark to the generally ordinary standard of umpiring in the match.