India build on Bangar knock to gain upper hand at Kolkata
Having lost the toss and being asked to field, the West Indies made the best of a bad start, restricting India to 275 for six at the end of the first day. Carl Hooper and his attack of four seamers will feel that, in some part at least, they wrested the initiative back from the hosts. With the Indian tail exposed, the West Indies will hope to restrict India to as little over 300 as possible; that will be half the battle won. From there, the skipper will have to hope that his batsmen come good when most needed.
The day began in somewhat bizarre fashion as the visitors made wholesale changes to their side. Surprising the pundits, the West Indies went into the game with four seamers on a wicket that looked slow and conducive to spin bowling. Marlon Samuels, Darren Powell and Cameron Cuffy were brought into the team in place of Ryan Hinds, Gareth Breese and injured left-arm seamer Pedro Collins.
The strategy seemed to backfire as Virender Sehwag characteristically started to put the bowling to the sword from the moment he reached the crease. Unmindful of the fact that he was beaten time and again, Sehwag slashed merrily at anything even a touch loose. The result was six boundaries in an entertaining run-a-ball 35 before a quicker one from Merv Dillon beat the bat. Straddling his crease, Sehwag was trapped in front of the stumps, and India had lost their first wicket for a brisk 49 that came in 10.2 overs.
Sanjay Bangar too seemed to be in an unusually adventurous mood. Driving at several deliveries too wide for the stroke, Bangar even edged a catch into the slip cordon early on, but watched in relief as Shivnarine Chanderpaul floored the tough chance.
Rahul Dravid, in perhaps the best form of his life, stroked the ball well from the word Go, looking good for a big knock when his innings was cut short on 14. Getting the ball to come back off the wicket, Darren Powell had Dravid inside-edging onto his pad. Missing the edge, umpire David Shepherd upheld the confident appeal for leg-before. When the teams walked off the field for lunch, India were 98 for two off 26 overs, scoring at a fast clip despite the loss of two crucial wickets.
In the second session, the pattern was much the same. Sachin Tendulkar, well on course to a big score, fell against the run of play in the 37th over of the innings. Flashing hard outside the off at a well-directed delivery from Jermaine Lawson, Tendulkar (36, seven fours) only managed to edge the ball to Chris Gayle in the slips.
Sourav Ganguly then took over the scoring. Using the angled bat to great effect, the Indian skipper pierced the infield on the off-side off both front and back foot to score five boundaries in his 29. Then, just at the stroke of the tea, Ganguly attempted to cut a straight one from Carl Hooper - in reality, much too close to cut - and tickled the ball through to wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs.
Quickly sizing up the situation, Bangar settled down to playing the role of sheet anchor to perfection. The intermittent fall of wickets at the other end only made Bangar concentrate harder. Batting with great care for 201 balls, Bangar (77, 13 boundaries) finally lost his concentration and drove Cameron Cuffy on the up into the waiting hands of Wavell Hinds in the cover-point region. The backbone of the Indian innings, Bangar once more proved his utility with a knock of high value.
While Bangar was the only one to spend any significant time in the middle, all the other top-order batsmen got starts. Coming in at number six, VVS Laxman was no exception. As wristy and fluent as ever, the Hyderabadi stylist tucked the ball away to all parts of the ground for 48, including eight boundaries. However, in almost characteristic fashion, Laxman fished at a ball well outside the off-stump to be caught at slip.
The Indian captain would have been disappointed with the timing of Laxman's fall, coming as it did in the 81st over, on a day where just 83 overs were possible. Fortunately for the hosts, Parthiv Patel (18 not out) and Harbhajan Singh ensured that no more than six wickets were lost on the day.
Yet again, the West Indies have managed to end a day's play on a high note. If they are to salvage some of the fierce Caribbean pride that saw their teams rise to the very pinnacle in yesteryear, the visitors must press home the advantage, sustain the momentum, and make life as difficult as possible for India on the start of the second day.