May 4, 2002

India in deep trouble once more at Barbados

The past week has already seen a three-day Test match with Pakistan swamping New Zealand at Lahore. India managed to put on a better show in their second innings, taking the match into the fourth day. If you have tickets for the fifth day though, one would recommend planning alternate entertainment. With two days to play, India trail by 123 with six second innings wickets in hand.

The day began with a typical West Indian lower order performance. Carl Hooper (115) blazed a flamboyant trail, scoring two centuries in a series for the first time in his career. The workmanlike Shivnarine Chanderpaul (101 not out) too chipped in but then the tail collapsed spectacularly. The last six wickets fell for 18 runs, ending the West Indian innings on 394, a lead of 292.

Resuming in their seventies, both Chanderpaul and Hooper marched on to centuries. Talented and yet never quite doing justice until recently, Hooper was a different man on the day. Confidence personified, the West Indian skipper thrashed the bowling to all parts, scoring boundaries at will before one hoick took the edge. Tendulkar got under a steepler and Hooper's 115 (235 balls, 18 boundaries) came to an end.

Ridley Jacobs, into the team to bolster the batting, fell for a duck, edging Nehra through to the 'keeper.

Next man, Merv Dillon made 6 before a short pitched ball from Nehra proved to be too hot to handle. Fending the ball away, Dillon found Das under the helmet on the leg side.

Pedro Collins and Adam Sanford both perished for ducks to Harbhajan Singh and a comedy of errors saw last man Cameron Cuffy run out. Chanderpaul was left high and dry on 101 (231 balls, 13 boundaries) as West Indies ended with a healthy lead of 292.

A sincere lad of humble beginnings is Wasim Jaffer. And one is always glad to see someone like that doing well. Looking completely the part as an opener, Jaffer partnered a nervous Das well.

A West Indian lead of 312 was always going to be daunting. India needed a good start and Jaffer seemed to realise that. The Mumbai opener put his head down and played the bowling on its merit. There weren't too many loose balls on offer, but Jaffer made every single one that came his way count.

Standing tall and driving well off the back foot, Jaffer concentrated on the cover-point region. Although not attempting to thrash the ball, Jaffer had the touch and the timing to beat the fence with ease. Pedro Collins came in for severe treatment, his bowling ideal for Jaffer to thump away. Short of a length and outside the off, going away with the arm, the angle and pace was ideal for Jaffer to score off. The fact that the offside field was packed did nothing to deter Jaffer.

In the 23rd over of the innings, however, there was a flutter. A fierce chop from Jaffer went straight towards Ramnaresh Sarwan at cover. The West Indian dived forward and collected the ball. Unsure, umpire Asoka de Silva referred the matter to the third umpire. After seeing replays from several angles, Billy Doctrove was unable to say for sure that Sarwan had caught it cleanly. The batsman was, rightly, given the benefit of doubt.

Soon after, however, Jaffer fell against the grain of play. Das tapped a Cuffy delivery slowly towards point and set off for a quick single. Chanderpaul swooped in, scored a direct hit underarm and Jaffer (51, 75 balls, 10 fours) was short of his crease.

As is so often the case, the final session of the day proved to be the hardest to bat out. After tea, India went from 80/1 to 169/4. Barring major miracles, this match is now well and truly in West Indies' lap. In the final session, 41 overs were bowled, 89 runs scored and three crucial wickets lost.

It was Shiv Sunder Das who fell first. Although not terribly convincing at the wicket, Das battled it out to see off 138 balls for his 35 before a hard flick to the onside found Sarwan. Fielding close, Sarwan grabbed the chance, a sharp one.

The fall of Das' wicket brought Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar together. The partnership did not last as long as India would have liked. In the 48th over of the innings Dravid (14) nicked Sanford through to Jacobs behind the stumps.

And then came the big wicket of the day. Merv Dillon bowling wicket to wicket got Tendulkar to play down the wrong line to a delivery slanting in, the appeal was spontaneous and umpire Asoka de Silva upheld it. Tendulkar was gone for just 8. Replays suggested the ball might have sailed over the stumps. Tendulkar will certainly consider himself a touch unlucky.

Laxman knows these positions where India is in deep trouble. It is after all in such a state that he made a name for himself with his epic 281 against Australia. The same Laxman, however, is too much of a stroke player to be rock solid. Driving and pushing away from his body, Laxman tends to give the bowlers a chance.

The Hyderabadi stylist was caught behind once off the bowling of Pedro Collins. Fortunately for Laxman a no-ball was called and he batted through to stumps with 30 against his name. Ganguly, finding the going tough under constantly fading light, was on 15 when bad light was offered and the players left the field.

Spare a thought at the end of the day for Cameron Cuffy, the unsung hero of the West Indies team. Contrary to everything Caribbean fast bowlers have been in recent times, Cuffy bowled with unnerving accuracy, sending down 18 overs for just 3 runs. The 15 maiden overs he bowled were the kind that we're used to seeing Glenn McGrath bowl, and certainly heaped the pressure on the Indians.