West Indies face uphill task
Close West Indies 33 for 2 trail India 457 for 9 (Sehwag 147, Dravid 100 ret hurt) by 424 runs
Today didn't go quite as many Indians would have visualised at stumps yesterday, when Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were in occupation of the crease, with 278 runs already on the board.
However, Dravid's painstaking 100 - which made him the first Indian to score four consecutive Test centuries - and a late cameo from Javagal Srinath ensured that India ended the day as they began it, on top.
Zaheer Khan gave them the added bonus of Chris Gayle's wicket - lbw for seven - early on, before Harbhajan Singh trapped a woefully out-of-sorts Wavell Hinds at bat-pad as West Indies finished 424 runs in arrears. Ramnaresh Sarwan, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul will have to bat out of their skins tomorrow to pass the follow-on target, on a surface that is already taking appreciable turn.
After Virender Sehwag's rousing display yesterday, much of today's action was an unwelcome throwback to the days when teams ground out draws in insipid fashion. The gathered throng had come to pay homage to Sachin Tendulkar, but he left them as early as the fourth over, driving at - and getting an outside edge to - a Mervyn Dillon delivery (281 for 3). Sourav Ganguly, who can be equally adept at overworking the scoreboard operators, made just four before suffering at the hands of umpire Asoka de Silva. The ball from Cameron Cuffy pitched well outside leg stump, but even as Ganguly stared at his bat, de Silva lifted the finger to uphold the leg before appeal (296 for 4).
That was the signal for the Indians to go into their shells. Dillon, Cuffy and Pedro Collins bowled with great discipline, but neither Dravid nor Laxman showed the ingenuity required to make things happen. Only 64 runs came before lunch and the hour that followed was cricket in siesta mode. Dillon probed away just outside the off stump, while Mahendra Nagamootoo came around the wicket to spear it into the rough outside leg stump. It was dire stuff at times and de Silva eventually no-balled him for persistent negativity.
Dravid played some superb cut shots and a few elegant flicks through midwicket, but in the latter stages, there were more than a few miscues and edges. He got to his hundred five minutes after tea, with a push to midwicket off Dillon, but pulled up clutching his hamstring as he was completing the second run. With a decent throw he might have been run out. The physio rushed on and helped him off, with what was later diagnosed as nothing more sinister than cramp and severe dehydration.
Laxman, who had batted with excessive caution and little flair for his 45, had gone on the stroke of tea, stumped by Ridley Jacobs as he wandered down the track to smother Nagamootoo's legspin (401 for 4). With the two top-order men accounted for, courtesy of the oppressive heat and smart wicketkeeping, West Indies set about mopping up the tail with enthusiasm. Dillon had rushed off holding his stomach one ball into his over, but Cuffy stepped into the breach and promptly got Harbhajan to nick one behind (407 for 5).
Nagamootoo then turned destroyer, having Anil Kumble caught on the push by Carl Hooper at cover and trapping Zaheer lbw with the flipper - though there was a suggestion it might have missed leg stump. With the pear shape almost complete, Srinath and Parthiv Patel put together 49 runs, much to Hooper's exasperation. With the sun relentless, the fielding went to pot and Srinath rubbed it in with a meaty six over mid-off off Cuffy and a couple of streaky edges that raced away. By the time he was out, caught behind for 31, India had the sort of total they would have wished for when Ganguly won the toss yesterday. And it looked even bigger once the West Indies lost both openers.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden.com in India.