May 20, 2002

West Indies still in charge

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As the stumps shattered, the bails flew and the most feared batsman in the Indian team slapped his bat on the pitch in rage at his mistake, the 12 000 or so Jamaicans filling Sabina Park to near-capacity broke into cheering, whistle-blowing celebration.

As far as most were concerned, Sachin Tendulkar's wicket an hour-and-a-quarter after tea on the second day had virtually guaranteed a series-clinching West Indies victory in the fifth and final Cable & Wireless Test.

Their euphoria was validated three overs and two runs later when the little opener, Shiv Sunder Das, was lbw to Cameron Cuffy to leave India 86 for four and a distance away from the West Indies total of 422.

It was the understandable optimism of a public desperate for the result that would lift spirits for too long depressed by defeat.

The reality was somewhat different.

The West Indies had secured a grip on the match since Wavell Hinds shared successive century stands with Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan on the opening day during his commanding 118 and they tightened it through more combative cricket yesterday.

But three days still remain and, if they are to convert their advantage into the result they require, they cannot afford even an hour of the slack cricket that has caused them so much grief in recent times.

India captain Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S.Laxman, both of whom have held them up more than once in the previous Tests, emphasised the work that lies ahead of them, batting through the final hour after the double loss of Tendulkar and Das, adding 55 unbroken as India closed 141 for four.

So far, the evidence is that the West Indies know success won't come without a fight. Every time they have been threatened with trouble, they have responded positively.

A typically robust counter-attack by Ridley Jacobs, who clouted two sixes and seven fours in 59 from 90 balls and shared a sixth-wicket partnership of 109 with fellow left-hander Shivnarine Chanderpaul, reclaimed their initiative after Carl Hooper's dismissal within the first 20 minutes.

Hooper departed, deflecting Javagal Srinath's bouncer high to slip off a withdrawn bat, at 292 for five. Given the record of their shaky tailend, the sizeable total that seemed certain while Hinds, Gayle and Sarwan were piling up the runs remained in doubt.

But Jacobs, the most consistently reliable West Indian cricketer since his belated entry into the team over three years ago, and Chanderpaul, in the best form of his life, saw to it that India were denied any further satisfaction as the total went past 400.

Merv Dillon then struck two early blows in the Indian reply and the dismissal of Tendulkar and Das after a steadying stand of 69 fortified the West Indies position.

Dillon has gradually stepped forward to be the leader of the fast attack now that Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh have exited the scene and, generating 87 mph pace on the true, bouncy, well-grassed pitch, he produced a telling opening burst.

He accounted for opener Wasim Jaffer to an edged catch to the keeper in the third over and pinned Rahul Dravid, India's leading batsman in the series, lbw on the back foot in the seventh to immediately commit India to a struggle.

Tendulkar, to Indian cricket what Michael Jordan is to basketball only multiplied several times over, has been proved human in this series, to the incredulity of roughly one billion of his countrymen.

His scores in his last four innings of 0 (fourth ball), 0 (second ball), 8 and 0 (first ball) are those of a clueless No. 11, not a batsman with 26 Test hundreds and an average of 58.

It took three balls for him to reassert himself. He clipped the first off his legs to the square-leg boundary and drove the second through mid-off for another boundary as the text book advises, both off the dangerous Dillon.

For an hour and 35 minutes either side of tea, he shaped as he hadn't done since he started the series with 79 at Bourda and 117 in the first innings at the Queen's Park Oval.

There were cuts, pulls and drives from the middle of his meaty bat, punishing anything fractionally off-line or length and especially those that were off both.

He was not flawless.

Hooper quickly introduced the left-arm Pedro Collins, who was responsible for Tendulkar's ducks in Barbados and Antigua, and Tendulkar's top-edged hook off his second ball landed in unprotected territory at square-leg.

He was 34 when, driving through the line, he offered Collins a low, barely catchable return to his left which the bowler followed with a bouncer and a good claim for lbw from the next two balls.

But Collins was wicketless when Hooper called on Adam Sanford to replace him for his first spell.

Tendulkar promptly cover-drove the bounding Carib for his seventh boundary but it was his last. Essaying the same stroke from a ball of full length from the same bowler, he somehow got himself into a tangle.

The bat came down crooked and the ball diverted from its bottom edge into the stumps. Sabina, noisy at the worst of times, exploded with a cacaphony that could be heard in Montego Bay.

The hullaballo hadn't died down when Das, aiming to leg and across the line of a ball of good length from Cuffy, was clearly lbw.

It was the last wicket for the day for the West Indies as the left-handed Ganguly and Laxman played with few alarms.

The West Indies owed their final total as much to the assertive Jacobs as to the three young tyros of the previous day.

Adopting the method he knows best and that earned him his 118 in the previous Test he immediately took the attack to the bowlers.

He hoisted a four and a six over long-off with powerful, aerial strokes from successive balls during an over from Srinath that also contained four byes that sailed over the leaping wicket-keeper and cost 19.

The introduction of off-spinner Harbhajan Singh made no difference to him.

As Chanderpaul batted solidly at the other end to carry his series aggregate above 500, Jacobs continued his onslaught, twice lifting Harbhajan for six.

By the time Harbhajan gained his revenge and breached his back foot defence 20 minutes after lunch, the total was already past 400.

Harbhajan added the wickets of Dillon and Sanford to bring his haul to five for the innings.