May 3, 2002

Hooper, Chanderpaul put West Indies in command

It was a frustrating day at the office for the Indians, the kind when almost nothing goes right, the world seems a cruel place, and circumstances just plummet downhill. And yes, the kind when competitors are making merry at your expense. West Indies, from 33 for one, reached a comfortable 314 for four, a healthy lead of 212 with three days to go in this game.

There were three little moments of joy for the Indians, but they were too minor and too fleeting to bring any lasting comfort. The first came right at the start of play. With 35 on the board, just two runs added to the overnight score, Chris Gayle was rapped on the pads without really moving his feet by a well pitched-up Zaheer Khan delivery. Asoka de Sliva made an easy decision, and Gayle (14) was on his way.

Then came the first big partnership of the day - 119 for the third wicket between Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brian Lara.

Lara started off rather tentatively, looking to play himself in rather than blaze a trail. Although never in serious trouble, the left-hander was found lacking once or twice when the ball beat the outside edge or thudded into his pads. After lunch, however, Lara looked deadly dangerous. The risk-taking was minimal, and the flow was returning slowly but steadily. One over in particular stood out, when Javagal Srinath was hit for boundaries to long-on and long off. Both shots came with that characteristic flow of the blade, the full face of the bat and impeccable timing.

And then, against the grain of play, an innocuous-looking delivery from Ashish Nehra trapped the master. Full and hinting to swing, the ball forced Lara (55, 123 balls, five fours) to dab forward, presenting Nehra with a simple return catch.

At the opposite end to Lara, Sarwan gave a good account of why people rate this 21-year-old as a future mainstay of West Indian batting. Playing some exquisite strokes off the back foot that raced away to the fence, Sarwan blunted the Indian bowling. Comfortable against the quick men and adequate against Harbhajan Singh, Sarwan crafted a tidy half-century. However, he seems just a tad too content on reaching his half-century, rarely going on to make big scores. Sarwan's loose swat at 60 (147 balls, 10 fours) went straight to the hands of Wasim Jaffer at gully.

Two wickets in 13 balls. Once again, Nehra had proven his worth as a partnership breaker. After his lethal effort at Port of Spain, the left-arm seamer had once again struck vital blows in Barbados.

But that was not the only sequence of events that evoked a sense of déjà vu. The two men from Guyana, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul came together to craft an unbeaten partnership of 153 for the fifth wicket.

It was a strange partnership. Hooper seemed out of sorts and bogged down. It was almost as though the failure of the previous Test, which some feel West Indies were capable of winning, weighed heavily on the skipper. Chanderpaul, however, had no such problems. He easily outscored his partner, striking some crisp boundaries through midwicket. When Chanderpaul brought up his half-century, Hooper had a mere 15 runs to his name.

Things swung around once more. After the tea break, Hooper came out all guns blazing. Whatever he sipped at the break must have done him a world of good. A commanding square cut started the run-flow. Hit with all the power and elan for which Caribbean batsmen are famous, the shot gave Hooper the confidence he needed. And if that were not enough to do the job, third umpire Billy Doctrove gave Hooper a reprieve; driving Nehra back down the wicket, Chanderpaul found the bowler's hand on the way to the stumps, with Hooper well short of his crease. Or so thought just about everyone who watched the TV replays - other than Doctrove, of course.

Before one realised it, Hooper had caught up with Chanderpaul. When the umpires put an end to an inordinately long last session, not before the sun winked its way behind a cloud just on the edge of the horizon, Hooper had 70 (172 balls, 10 fours) while Chanderpaul was on 73 (157 balls, 12 fours).

Tired, unlucky in patches and run ragged, the Indians would not be bothered in the least about which of the Guyanese scored faster. The fact that they are still around to fight another day, having added 153 for the fifth wicket, will cause Ganguly to lose some sleep.