Hinds, Gayle carry West Indies to strong start
For the second day running, West Indies dominated India at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Opener Wavell Hinds scored a ton while his partner Chris Gayle reached 80, as the pair put on a commanding opening partnership of 172 and took West Indies to 189/3 in response to India's 358. The hosts only managed their eventual score thanks to some lusty late-in-the-order scoring from Parthiv Patel and Javagal Srinath. If that spell of cricket early in the day brought fans to their feet, the assault of the West Indian openers drove home the point of the day - the West Indies are in control.
The day clearly belonged to the twenty-six-year-old Wavell Hinds. The young southpaw notched up the first West Indian century of this series and made the Indian bowlers toil hard. Put together with alacrity, the partnership for the first wicket easily went past the former record mark for the wicket at the ground which was set by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. Sitting in the pavilion and watching the game, chairman of selectors Sir Vivian Richards would have allowed himself a smile at the way West Indies went from strength to strength.
At one stage, with the scoreboard reading 172/0 it looked as though West Indies would go through the whole day without losing a wicket. It was, then, that Harbhajan Singh struck, completely against the grain of play. Pulling the offie, Hinds could only watch in dismay as the ball hurtled straight to Sourav Ganguly at square leg. Hinds' even 100 (200 balls, 16 fours) put West Indies in a strong position.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, coming in to bat in the fading light, did not last long, making just two, before a smart bit of wicket-keeping by Parthiv Patel saw the young middle-order batsman stumped off Harbhajan.
Merv Dillon was sent in as nightwatchman, a move that backfired on the West Indies. Clean bowled for a duck off the second ball he faced, Dillon was back in the hut as quickly as he had come out. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, then, saw off five deliveries before play was called off due to bad light.
All the while, Gayle has batted responsibly and patiently. Never shy to put away the loose deliveries - 14 of these reached the ropes while one went all the way - Gayle was cautious against good deliveries. He left a fair share of deliveries alone and also used his pad effectively against the spinners.
Earlier in the day, some shoddy bowling by West Indies let India off the hook. From the overnight score of 275/6 with the tail exposed, West Indies would have hoped to knock over the last four wickets giving away as few runs as possible. But Parthiv Patel (47) came close to scoring his maiden Test half-century and Javagal Srinath with 46 gave the batting depth as India went on to post a respectable first innings score.
Seventeen-year old young wicketkeeper Patel was clearly overawed when he first graduated to the highest stage. Facing bowlers of a different level both in terms of speed and skill, Patel seemed out of his depth. None of that in this match. Batting sensibly, the youngster managed six boundaries in his 89-ball 47.
Srinath too proved that he is no slouch, carting the ball to all parts in his 40-ball stay at the wicket. The veteran Karnataka medium-pacer went after the bowlers, striking seven boundaries and one six in his knock of 46. The partnership of 73 for the eighth wicket was instrumental in getting India to its eventual total of 358.
Having put the runs on the board, though, India were stunned by the manner in which West Indies fought back. While the batting line-up had succumbed meekly in the recent past, the young pair of Jamaican openers showed that there is still hope for the men from the Caribbean.
Uncomplicated batting, matched with an equal measure of caution, was all it took to keep the Indian bowlers at bay on a wicket that was good for batting. Suddenly, Srinath looked a tired medium-pacer past his prime, Ashish Nehra reminded one of how much Zaheer Khan is missed and the spinners looked for a spot of luck to get them a wicket.
It is still not beyond West Indies to collapse on the third day and hand India the initiative on a platter. Harbhajan has 3/43 to his name, and everyone knows he's a rhythm bowler. If he strikes early tomorrow, all the visitors' good work will come undone.