May 18, 2002

West Indies stutter after strong start to final Test

The day began with joy, quickly turned into a nightmare, veered towards major disaster and then settled down to normalcy for India at the Sabina Park in Jamaica. After putting West Indies in to bat on a green-top, India watched helplessly as the hosts reached 287/4.

It was that kind of day for the Indians. Javagal Srinath, listless and luckless, spent another day going wicketless. For the first time in his career the Karnataka mediumpacer has played two Tests without taking a single wicket. Ashish Nehra was adequate without being consistently penetrative. Zaheer Khan bowled both sides of the wicket and Harbhajan Singh, well, he went for 83 runs in his 22 overs.

All the while, West Indian batsmen chuckled quietly and helped themselves to as many runs as they pleased.

The day began well for the Indians, with Sourav Ganguly winning his first toss of the series. With a decent covering of live grass, there should have been enough lateral movement and bounce to excite the bowlers.

However, the Indian seamers found that it was difficult to swing the ball from an off-stump line. Every time they strayed a bit outside the off, there was exaggerated movement. The batsmen, Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds, could leave those deliveries well alone and go after the loose deliveries on offer.

And there were quite a few loose deliveries. The Jamaican pair opening the batting took full toll. Both exciting left-handers in their own right, Gayle and Hinds made sure they were well set before they went after the bowling. Booming drives down the wicket were the order of the day. The ball was kept right up to the bat by the bowlers and when there was no swing, Gayle's blade came down in a clean arc, bludgeoning the ball back past the bowler.

When he gets going, he's a gorgeous batsman. Gayle sure looked in fine form, spanking his way to 68 before being dismissed against the grain of play.

Gayle's height makes him an awkward man to bowl to. Standing on his toes, he is able to drive even the seemingly short balls quite comfortably on the up. Not necessarily playing in the air, Gayle is able to use the top hand to keep the ball down. It was such a cover drive today that saw Gayle reach 61 and with it 1000 runs in Test cricket.

The 36th over of the day saw Zaheer Khan get creamed through covers in typical Gayle fashion. Clearly miffed, Zaheer Khan bent his back, and two balls later surprised Gayle with a delivery that was perfectly pitched outside the off and bounced a bit more than expected. The resultant edge was well taken by Wasim Jaffer at gully. Gayle's 68 (106 balls, 13 fours) had pushed the first wicket partnership to 111.

The fall of Gayle's wicket did nothing to deter Wavell Hinds. A different batsman from the taller Gayle, Hinds' strength lies in a short back lift and quick bat speed. He certainly used those features, coupled with some nifty footwork to good effect.

And then, from a position of supreme strength at 246/1 West Indies lost three quick wickets for 18 runs and yet ended the first day on a healthy 287/4.

It all began really with the fall of Hinds. After sending the crowd into raucous delirium with the second century of his Test career, Hinds undid a fair share of the good work. Upto the point of his dismissal, Hinds had been refreshing in the ease with which he scored runs. The fact that he had 113 (200 balls, 14 fours, 2 sixes) to his name might have caused a temporary lapse in concentration.

Coming down the track and hitting inside out, Hinds holed out to Wasim Jaffer at long-off. And to think that the previous three balls he faced were handsomely dispatched to the fence!

Brian Lara then walked out to the middle to a roar that matched anything that's been heard at Jamaica. Would this be the day when the big star delivered? The scratchy start suggested that it wouldn't. Sure enough, after chopping one ball down to the third man fence for a solitary boundary, Lara poked at one from Ashish Nehra. Ajay Ratra, sharp as ever behind the stumps, took a good low diving catch and Lara (9) was on his way.

The momentary silence that marked the Lara dismissal passed over as the West Indian captain walked out to the middle to join Sarwan. Then came the expected. Sarwan, who had batted beautifully for his 65 (130 balls, 6 fours), was dismissed. Edging Harbhajan Singh to leg slip, Sarwan joined Lara in the pavilion, and it was 264/4. With this wicket, Harbhajan Singh reached the milestone of 100 Test wickets.

Taking the second new ball, India created yet another chance. Carl Hooper, who has a double hundred and two centuries in this tour so far, pinged a Nehra delivery straight to Shiv Sunder Das at cover. After taking the ball with both hands, Das let the ball pop out. Hooper has had a few lucky breaks this series, and he's always made the opposition pay. On 14 now, India will hope that's not the case this time around.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, another man India would like to see the back of, quietly compiled 4 and will be ready to do battle on the second day.