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November 14, 2011
"Loose balls are the best balls sometimes," Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, said with a laugh after a day when his team's bowling was severely tested on a benign pitch and four of the five wickets to fall were gifted by the batsmen. Led by a Rahul Dravid century, India dominated the day's play before two wickets in four balls gave the visitors some hope of making significant inroads with the second new ball on Tuesday morning.
"It's always tough to play on this track at Eden Gardens," Gibson said. "History says that you usually go at an economy-rate of three an over. We are going at 3.8 an over [actually 3.95] and hopefully we can drag it down tomorrow. Our guys toiled hard. We knew it was always going to be difficult to bowl to [Virender] Sehwag early on. I'd give credit to all the guys for being at it the whole day and getting five wickets."
West Indies knew the enormity of the task in front of them within minutes of play starting, with back-of-length deliveries barely rising as high as the batsman's ribcage. There was a hint of resignation in Gibson's voice when he spoke about the conditions. "It's obviously disappointing but that has been the nature of subcontinent wickets over the years. This one hasn't spun a great deal yet. We spoke about it. Credit to Kemar Roach for coming back, bowling three very good spells and getting a wicket late in the day. Hopefully he can build on that tomorrow."
Roach was included after Ravi Rampaul fell ill on the eve of the game. Offspinner Shane Shillingford, Gibson said, was overlooked given India's level of comfort with the turning ball. "It was a tough decision. You look at the pitch and feel may be you can play two spinners. But you look at historical evidence too. Indians grew up playing spin. The extra pace of Kemar could help and it worked out quite well for us."
The biggest obstacle was Dravid, whose 119 was his sixth century in the last 12 months. "He is a class batsman and has been that way for the best part of twenty years. He has been in great form this year. I saw a statistic flash on television that he has the most [Test] runs by any batsman this year.
"With his appetite, I am sure he will score runs in Australia as well. It was obviously good to take his wicket; that lifted everyone. It's good that we don't have to see Dravid walk out tomorrow and take guard again."
That wicket also justified Darren Sammy's decision to delay the taking of the second new ball. But on a slow surface that has largely negated the potency of the pace attack, West Indian hopes of an upset victory will depend on the performance of Devendra Bishoo. At times on the opening day, that expectation appeared to weigh him down.
"It's something we have spoken about," Gibson said. "Young Bishoo has been our main spinner for ten months now and done well for us. You also have to take into account that he has been bowling to India, who are strong players of spin. Even Shane Warne didn't find it easy here. There have been times when Bishoo hasn't been able to string together as many good balls as he'd like."
Gibson remained confident that West Indies could rattle India's cage in this game, citing the batting collapse in the first innings in Delhi.
This, though, is a different sort of slow pitch, and India spinners, especially the absent Harbhajan Singh, have exploited its vagaries in the past. How West Indies fare will depend entirely on whether they can negotiate R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha better than they managed to in the opening Test.
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