Hooper, Chanderpaul prosper as Test heads for draw
If you believe that the fourth Test between India and the West Indies is heading for anything but the most tame of draws, perhaps it is best that you stay away from the betting centres.
As tempting as the odds may be, this game will need more than a miracle to infuse the slightest hope of a positive result. The West Indies are 405 for five in response to India's 513 for nine, with one day to play.
The day began with Carl Hooper riding the crest of a wave of luck. He took the West Indies towards safety with every passing over. Hooper saw to it that there were enough West Indian wickets still to be taken whenever the Indians threatened to upset the apple cart.
There is much talk of Hooper's luck, and it is true that there were three occasions when Hooper could so easily have been dismissed on the third day. Hooper survived one very close shout for lbw, was caught off a no-ball, and a half-chance at slip went abegging.
There has been just as much talk about Anil Kumble as well. After his shock appearance to take the wicket of Lara, there were rumours of his continuing in this match. But Kumble took the flight out back to India and will play no further part in this Test.
Purely luck, though, is not enough to carry a batsman. It needs the sweet shots, the calm composure, the calculated risk-taking that Hooper brought to the party. Starting the day off with two slashed boundaries through third man, Hooper went on to play a delectable cover drive off Sachin Tendulkar that sailed over the cover-point fence.
From then on there was no stopping Hooper. Even the wicket of the well-set Ramnaresh Sarwan did not deter the West Indian captain. After playing solidly for a half-century, Sarwan added just one to his overnight score before being trapped lbw for 51 by a full delivery from Zaheer Khan.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul joined Hooper and the pair tormented India once more. Adding 186 for the fifth wicket, the duo took the West Indies well past the safety mark of the follow-on.
The second session was one of hard toil for the Indians - wicketless, without hope and full of runs. Sourav Ganguly even resorted to asking Zaheer Khan to bowl left-arm spin. Such was the domination of the Guyanese pair who have already posted two 200-plus partnerships in this series.
Before the series began, Hooper had never scored more than one century in a series. He now has three centuries in this series with one Test to go. Captaincy, then, certainly seems to have done Hooper a world of good. Inspired by Hooper's 136 (278 balls, 13 fours, three sixes), the West Indies reached a very healthy 405 for five at the end of the fourth day.
Chanderpaul made full use of every loose ball thrown up, and there were quite a few, what with part-time bowlers operating. He is not the most glamorous of batsmen. He is not the man the crowds come to watch. But he is the one that bolsters the West Indian side more often than not.
The follow-on was easily avoided, and in all reality, that meant a result in this match had been avoided.
If you like the drip-drip approach of Chinese water torture, you would have appreciated India's approach to the last session of the fourth day. Apart from the wicket of the well-set, and thoroughly-bored, Carl Hooper, India made no dents as the West Indies reached an academic total. The match, as a competition, is certainly over.
Hooper, coming down the track to a short Tendulkar leg-break, could only manage a top-edge as he attempted an inside-out shot over covers. There was no power in the stroke, and the high catch was taken by Ashish Nehra at cover-point.
In a situation like this, one really could not ask for a better man than Chanderpaul. A mixture of drives that masqueraded as nudges and defensive shots and resulted in singles saw the little man reach 80 (268 balls, 12 fours). A century beckons, and Chanderpaul is unlikely to go the Sarwan way.
The bowling has been less than inspiring, and Ridley Jacobs is the ideal man to take toll in such situations. A plethora of bowlers were used, and not one of them bothered him as he reached 18 (46 balls, one four, one six).
With the state of the match as it is, even the die-hard Indian fan can be excused for not turning up for the final day's play. He may even earn added honours for good taste.