May 12, 2002

West Indies consolidate amidst high drama at Antigua

You want action, forget the one-dayers, stick to Test cricket. The third day of the fourth Test saw Ajay Ratra become the first Indian stumper to score a ton overseas, India declare on 513/9 and West Indies respond with 187/3. Not before Anil Kumble, with a broken jaw and a return-ticket booked, took the field and dismissed Brian Lara. What a day!

It all began with Ratra, increasingly under pressure for not making runs, watching in dismay as Laxman became the seventh Indian wicket to fall. After making 130 (244 balls, 14 fours) Laxman played back to a short ball from Merv Dillon and trod on his wicket. An unusual dismissal but one that West Indies would take on a flat wicket.

Zaheer Khan (4) then hung around long enough to see Ratra reach three figures. It did not come easily, but when it did, the joy was unbridled. The whole Indian team stood on the balcony clapping and cheering as Ratra became the first Indian 'keeper to score a Test century overseas. This is of course overlooking Vijay Manjrekar's similar achievement, as he was not really a specialist 'keeper.

The effort took India to a substantial total. And when the declaration came, after Javagal Srinath made 15 and was dismissed, Ratra was unbeaten on 115 (282 balls, 12 fours).

In response to India's healthy 513/9 declared, West Indies got off to a solid start. There was almost no movement off the wicket or in the air. Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra shared the new ball but could not trouble the batsmen.

Zaheer Khan, with his extra pace and awkward angle, got a couple of deliveries to jump. This was not yet cause for concern, however, as Hinds and Gayle drove fluently through both the off and on-sides.

The first real chance for the visitors came in the 24th over of the day. Gayle, moving across his stumps and flicking a full delivery that found Shiv Sunder Das at square-leg. The fielder reacted a touch late, however, and floored the catch.

Fortunately for the Indians, Gayle did not make them pay for their mistake. Without adding another run to his tally of 32, he nicked Zaheer Khan through to the 'keeper soon after.

Sarwan replaced Gayle as the ball was beginning to lose its shine. India were prompted to bring Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar into the attack and this helped the overs roll along. Tendulkar, in particular, infused some interest into the proceedings with leg-breaks and googlies that turned prodigiously. The wrong 'uns in particular troubled the left-handed Hinds more than once.

When Wavell Hinds brought up his half century with a spanking cover drive, the fans at Antigua were on their feet. After watching India bat for two days and a bit, there was finally some West Indian batting on display. And it was gorgeous clean hitting at that.

That was until Tendulkar enticed a false shot from Hinds. A looping wrong 'un seemed badly pitched, a shade outside the leg stump. Leaning forward and preparing to clout the ball to the fence, Hinds found the ball dipping on him, played down the wrong line and heard the death rattle. The ball spun back enough to clip the leg stump. Hinds' well-made 65 (117 balls, 9 fours) had come to an end.

Sarwan watched quietly from the non-striker's end as the biggest roar of the day welcomed Lara out to the middle. Lara on a flat wicket... a run fest on the cards?

Not much later, just after news came in that Kumble was flying back to India the next day for surgery, out walked the man himself. Heavily strapped up, with bands going around his jaw, over his head and across the back of it, a semi-mummified Kumble walked out to the middle.

The ball was tossed to Kumble and a slider slipped past Lara's outside edge off the very first ball. There was much speculation about the wisdom of such a move. Perhaps it was foolhardy to ask a man with a fractured jaw to bowl?

All talk was put to an end, as is so often the case with Kumble, by one delivery. Tossed up, fizzing through, pitching on off and spinning in just a touch, Lara's across the line swat was not good enough. The pad was struck, Kumble appealed as well as his plaster would allow and umpire David Shepherd confirmed that Lara (4) was plumb lbw.

Hooper and Sarwan then went on to steady the ship. On a flat wicket, the last thing the West Indies needed was a flurry of wickets. And that almost happened.

In the 64th over of the day, Kumble had Hooper caught at forward short-leg, only to see umpire Shepherd call a no-ball. Off the next ball, one that bounced and turned, Hooper flashed hard to slip. Dravid got hishands to it but could not latch onto the chance.

The rest of the day, thankfully, passed off uneventfully. Hooper chipped and drove his way to 26, Sarwan, the very picture of solidity and cool composure racked up 50.