Dillon, Lawson lead West Indies fightback
Ironically, after overnight rains threatened to put a dampener on proceedings and caused a whole session to be lost, the West Indies came up with their best cricket of the series so far. Despite grassing as many as three catches, the mercurial men of the Caribbean managed to restrict India to 190 for five at the end of the second day's play.
A West Indian team of the 70s, with batsmen swaggering to centuries and bowlers brushing aside batsmen with high-quality pace, would not be enthused by the situation they are facing. For Carl Hooper though, with no more than one colleague able to play the Indian spinners and only a group of rookies to send down the overs, this position is more than acceptable. Without being cruel, one remembers the old saying that refers to beggars and their lack of choice.
Some say it's basketball, others the lack of role models. Whatever the reason for the lack of genuine talent coming through on the cricket scene, chairman of selectors Sir Vivian Richards can take heart from the way debutant Jermaine Lawson performed today. Bowling with heart, the paceman from Jamaica bowled good line and length, extracting reverse swing and keeping the batsmen under pressure, all this while bowling at considerable pace.
But talking about pace, the manner in which Virender Sehwag continued from his overnight score of 24 suggested that he wanted to finish this game early to spend some time with his family in Najafgarh. A slew of boundaries off the pacemen that pierced the infield and peppered the advertising hoardings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium meant that was not long before Hooper turned to the other debutant in this game - batting-off-spinning-all-rounder Gareth Breese.
In Breese's very first over, the young bowler learned something about bowling off-spin at the highest level as Sehwag, hitting with the turn, launched Breese over the ropes at long-on. The next ball saw a tentative defensive shot edged to short leg, where Wavell Hinds fluffed a catch; but what a maiden Test wicket that would have been! To rub it in, Sehwag just clattered the next delivery into the upper tier of the stands at long-on.
The West Indians could only heave a sigh of relief in the 26th over of the day when a peach of a delivery from Pedro Collins had Sehwag playing down the wrong line and losing his off-stump. Sehwag's entertaining 61 came off just 65 balls and included a remarkable eight hits to the fence and three sixes.
Rahul Dravid, attempting to equal Everton Weekes' record of five centuries in as many Tests, was cleaned up by the delivery of the day when he was on just 11. A cracker of an inswinger, hitting the deck at just the right length, zipped past Dravid's bat at express pace and shattered the furniture. An overjoyed Lawson had the first wicket of his Test career, a fine scalp at that.
Sachin Tendulkar, batting at one of his favourite grounds, began unconvincingly. While several deliveries from Hooper reared off a length or bounced awkwardly, Tendulkar defended without conviction. However, when the bowlers erred in line or length, he was quick to pounce and send the ball to the fence.
For company, Tendulkar had a solid ally in Sanjay Bangar. Batting as to the manner born, the Railways cricketer kept the bowling stolidly at bay. The stodgy defensive stroke was in operation, as was the effective leave outside the off-stump. The push past covers or through point yielded a high proportion of Bangar's 40 that came off a labourious 171 balls, but almost four hours into his knock, a similar stroke presented a catch to Hooper at slip off the bowling of Dillon.
Off the very next ball, Dillon struck again, although it would be more appropriate if umpire Asoka de Silva were given credit for that particular dismissal. After handing Wavell Hinds a raw deal just yesterday, umpire de Silva raised the dreaded finger on Ganguly even as he thickly inside-edged a straight one from Dillon onto his pads. "Ganguly lbw bowled Dillon" is the entry in the scorebook; more believable lines have been written in ten-penny pot-boilers.
Tendulkar proceeded to score at an even clip, despite not being at his best. When he moved past 16, the little man reached yet another milestone - 20,000 runs in international cricket. Allan Border, with 17,698 runs, is the closest to Tendulkar. But Border, renowned for his obdurate attitude, would certainly have batted with greater concentration on the day than Tendulkar did. On 43 (156 minutes, 113 balls, five fours), Tendulkar dragged a wide delivery from Lawson back onto his stumps.
When Tendulkar was dismissed, with the clouds gathering, the sun setting and the floodlights coming on, India were 180 for five. Parthiv Patel did not get a chance to get his feet moving, and with a fluent VVS Laxman (18 not out) at the crease, play was stopped due to bad light less than three overs later. On the day, 28 overs were lost, taking into account the late start and the inability to go on for the extra hour after the scheduled close.
At 190 for five, India still have much to do in this game. After bowling the West Indies out for a mere 167, they need to make sure they now garner a substantial lead. For their part, the men from the Caribbean will be able to enjoy at least one good night's sleep. To their credit, it's well-earned. There is fire in the belly and rain in the air, and the two might just be enough to keep this series alive.