Chanderpaul, Samuels thrive as West Indies take command
A third consecutive day of complete West Indian domination put India firmly on the backfoot at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. From an overnight 189/3, West Indies reached a commanding 446/5. The visitors have a handy lead of 88 with two days to play and are in a position to put pressure on the Indians on the penultimate day. The hero, unsurprisingly, was Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with 136 not out, while Marlon Samuels played second fiddle perfectly, reaching an unbeaten 89. The best thing that happened to the Indians, then, was bad light putting an end to their misery nine overs short of the scheduled close.
As it so often turns out, India had the best of the first session but nothing seemed to go their way after that. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble struck early in the day, removing Chris Gayle after he had added just eight runs to his overnight score of 80. Poking forward at a delivery that Kumble floated through a bit slower, Gayle gloved the ball to Virender Sehwag at forward short leg off his pad.
Replacing Gayle, skipper Carl Hooper batted with composure. The Guyana middle-order bat used his wrists well to keep the opposition spinners at bay. It was, however, a brilliant bit of wicket-keeping that proved Hooper's undoing. After the second new ball was taken, Ashish Nehra got a ball to straighten. Hooper edged and Parthiv Patel dived full length to his right to snatch the ball inches above the ground. The ball was dying on Patel and the catch proved the young keeper's pedigree. Hooper made just 19.
After pegging the West Indies back to 255/5, India could not make even a dent in the proceedings. Chanderpaul hammered out his sixth Test century and took West Indies past the Indian first innings score of 358. Samuels, unbeaten on 36, gave Chanderpaul exactly the kind of support he needed.
Chanderpaul's century was his fifth against India in Tests. The Guyana southpaw seems to love the Indian bowling attack. Before the start of this innings, Chanderpaul has scored an amazing 1140 runs against the Indians at an average of over 80. This innings, however, has been a touch out of the ordinary. By his own standards, Chanderpaul was aggressive, cracking twelve boundaries and a six in getting to three figures in 179 balls. Also, in the course of his innings, Chanderpaul aggregated one thousand runs in this calendar year. Phew.
For his part, Samuels was able to keep the Indian spinners at bay. Batting carefully, Samuels ensured that a mammoth unbeaten 191 runs has been added for the sixth wicket.
There's a century for the taking for Samuels. The twenty-one year old has never reached the three-figure mark in Tests and will certainly be keen as anything when play starts on the fourth day. With that keenness will come the swirling swarm of butterflies in the tummy. What Samuels needs to do, though, is take a leaf out of Chanderpaul's book.
When he reached fifty, Chanderpaul showed little emotion, merely raising his bat in understated fashion to several sections of the ground. He then re-marked his guard, focussed and battled on. When he reached three figures, though, there was a release of emotion that would have warmed the hearts of even the keenest Indian supporters at Kolkata. After sprinting two runs, Chanderpaul whipped his helmet off, held both hands aloft, acknowledged the cheers of the crowd, knelt down and kissed the wicket. That's the sort of gesture that will go down well with the emotional crowds - reportedly 66, 548 on the day at India's biggest stadium.
And yes, what would have made it easier for fans to appreciate the Windies was the performance of the Indian bowlers. Anil Kumble was ravaged - giving away 150 runs off his 47 overs. His partner, Harbhajan Singh, went for 101 runs off 52 overs, without adding to his overnight tally of three wickets. Tomorrow, two others will aim to reach the 150 and 100 marks, only that will be in the positive sense. Both Chanderpaul and Samuels certainly deserve to reach those milestones.