May 20, 2002

West Indies reach dominant position

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With two days of the Test to go, the West Indies are in a dominating position at Jamaica. Ahead by 375, with Chanderpaul at the crease and three wickets left, it is almost impossible to see the hosts losing from here. True, stranger things have happened in the history of the game, but one suspects that will not be the case here.

The day began quite well for the visitors. A determined Sourav Ganguly and a comfortable VVS Laxman looked in no trouble at all. The West Indies seamers stuck to their task, plugging away at a good length on a wicket that kept the bowlers interested. Eventually, one ball did just enough to account for Ganguly. Fending at a ball just outside the off, Ganguly edged the ball through to 'keeper Ridley Jacobs.

Jacobs has hardly missed anything in this series, and this catch was no exception. Ganguly (36 runs, 72 balls, six fours) became Merv Dillon's first wicket of the day. Pumped up and energised by the wicket, Dillon improved as the overs rolled by.

Ajay Ratra (3), Harbhajan Singh (4), Zaheer Khan (6) and Javagal Srinath (2) contributed precious little to the Indian cause. Dillon, though, was pleased as punch with the wicket of Harbhajan Singh, his fifth of the innings.

Despite Nehra's being run out for a duck and the Indian innings ending on 212, the follow-on was not enforced. Laxman, who has been a picture of confidence and strength throughout the series, top-scored with an unbeaten 65 (152 balls, seven fours). Despite going on to make only one big score, his contribution to every innings has been substantial.

The fact that the West Indies chose not to enforce the follow-on did not come as a huge surprise. But then, the hosts probably could not have anticipated the events that followed.

Wavell Hinds, who batted tremendously for a century in the first innings, was completely undone by a spell of good bowling by Javagal Srinath. Although nowhere near his quickest, Srinath seemed to find a good rhythm, teasing the batsmen just outside the off-stump. Hinds (6) could not resist forever, and one prod saw him edge the ball to Laxman at second slip.

Soon after, Srinath accounted for Gayle (15) in similar fashion.

Sarwan, coming in at one drop, began positively, finding the gaps well and stroking the ball through the infield. Perhaps it was this confidence that caused his downfall as well. Driving far away from his body, foot not quite to the pitch of the ball, Sarwan hit Zaheer Khan to a diving Shiv Sunder Das at cover. Making amends for earlier gaffes, Das took a good low catch, sending Sarwan (12) packing.

Carl Hooper (6) too could not stick around and dabbed a Zaheer Khan delivery through to wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra. The West Indies, at that point, were in a spot of bother at 60 for four.

But if that position before tea gave the visitors hope, their eventual 165 for seven at stumps set things up intriguingly. The hosts are ahead by 375, and one can be sure this match will not end in a draw. With two full days to play, a cracking finale is in the offing.

Brian Lara, growing in confidence, played a tremendous pull off the front foot that would have sent a shiver down the spines of the bowlers. The tough situations bring out the best in some cricketers, and Lara in the past has certainly shown that he falls in that category. But there was to be no last Lara hurrah in a forgettable series. On 35, Lara dragged a Zaheer Khan delivery back onto his stumps.

Ridley Jacobs, after being dropped in the slips by Rahul Dravid off Zaheer Khan in the 26th over of the innings, went on to compile a tidy 16, whipping the ball through the onside time and time again. Just when he looked like he might help Chanderpaul stretch their partnership, Jacobs was dismissed by Harbhajan Singh.

Defending awkwardly at a flighted ball that did not really turn much, Jacobs gloved the ball to substitute fielder Dinesh Mongia at short-leg.

Dillon then whacked one ball through square before losing his cool and attempting a wild slog through the on-side. He missed, Nehra struck, and the West Indies were 122 for seven.

Then came a period of play that made life miserable for the Indians. Pedro Collins, coming in at number nine, lasted a remarkable 41 balls for four runs and was involved in an unbeaten partnership of 43 with Chanderpaul.

Chanderpaul continued to torment India with his accumulation of runs. Never spectacular, yet always carefully doing what is best for the West Indies, Chanderpaul made an unbeaten 55.

The West Indies are now right on top of this game. They will have to play very badly, or India extraordinarily well, for this game to end in anything but a win for the home team.