West Indies scent victory at the end of fourth day
At the end of the fourth day, the West Indies have all but won the final Test and sealed the series 2-1. Chasing 408, India are 237 for seven, with every recognised batsman back in the pavilion; it really seems to be all over for the visitors. The last rites will be performed when the new ball is taken early on the final day.
One of the key members in crafting the Windies' strong position was Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Top-scoring with 59, he took his series tally to 562 runs at an average of over 140 and the West Indies to 197.
In the face of a daunting target of 408, India lost wickets at regular intervals.
Wasim Jaffer was the first to go, flicking hard at Pedro Collins. The ball was pitched on middle and leg stump and cramped the batsman for room. Jaffer made good contact, sending the ball straight at forward short-leg. Wavell Hinds, who has showed superb reflexes in that position, hung on to the sharp chance. Collins had struck in his very first over, pegging India back to 19 for one.
In his next over, Collins struck again. Playing across the line to a full delivery, Das was struck on the pad. A loud shout for lbw resulted and umpire Russell Tiffin raised the dreaded finger. Television replays however suggested that the ball pitched outside the leg-stump, and Das (10) will consider himself unlucky.
Then came a period of play that raised Indian spirits. Rahul Dravid, coming out to the middle with little on the board, began positively. Taking Collins for three boundaries one over, Dravid began to defy the West Indian bowlers.
The hopes of a nation ride often on Sachin Tendulkar. While fans have ample respect for Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, rushes of blood and irrational beliefs that no task is too difficult are inspired by Tendulkar alone.
Adam Sanford, bowling pretty much all over the place, was the man responsible for Dravid's wicket. Amidst the half-volleys outside the off-stump and the leg-side half-trackers, Sanford produced one perfectly pitched delivery. Just short of a good length and on the stumps, with the ball coming in a touch and keeping low, Dravid (30) could not bring the bat down before the ball crashed into the pads. Plumb in front and India were 77 for three.
Things could have gone either way at that stage. Ganguly was new to the wicket, and Tendulkar was not yet at the top of his game.
They did, however, go only one way - India's. Getting into a rhythm that has been rare in this series, Tendulkar unleashed an array of powerful strokes that caused the bowlers' shoulders to droop. Precision square-cuts piercing the gaps perfectly, vicious pulls scorching the turf and, of course, the tidy straight drives that give fielders no chance were all on display.
When tea was taken, India's position was shaky at 166 for three, and yet a sliver of hope remained.
A complete reversal of fortunes right after tea saw the West Indies regain their stranglehold on this game, while India's hopes were summarily dismissed. Collins clean-bowled Tendulkar, Sanford scalped Ganguly, and India were reduced to 176 for five. By the end of the day, India were on the verge of defeat at 237 for seven.
Keeping the ball right up at driving length and allowing it to swing or seam off the wicket, Collins reaped rich rewards. Going around the wicket to the right-handers, Collins created a nagging angle. Coming in with the arm and often straightening after pitching, the ball evaded the middle of the bat.
Once such delivery kept a shade low and evaded the bat altogether. Not quite in position, neither fully back nor forward, Tendulkar got himself into a bit of a tangle as the ball slipped through before he could bring his bat down. Tendulkar had played brilliantly, dominating the bowling, but as it is with this great game, it took just one ball to undo the hard work. Tendulkar's 86 was studded with 13 boundaries.
The wicket of Tendulkar signalled the beginning of the end for India. Pulling a Sanford delivery that hurried onto him, Ganguly (28) only managed to find Ramnaresh Sarwan at square leg.
Laxman was the next casualty. After playing some trademark drives that reached the fence with ease, he miscued a pull shot towards square leg and Merv Dillon back-pedalled quickly, kept his eyes on the ball and took a good catch. Laxman's dismissal after he made 23 had opened up the Indian tail to the Windies.
Harbhajan Singh batted steadily for 17 but could not resist having a go at the gentle off-spin of Chris Gayle and only managed to find Cuffy at mid-on.
Ajay Ratra batting on 16 and Zaheer Khan on four were at the crease when bad light stopped play. India are 237 for seven, and the final day's play is but a formality. Unless, of course, it rains and rains and rains.