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In the absence of their lynchpin, West Indies came into the Test with their top seven having played fewer Tests than Virender Sehwag, but they were far from intimidated at the Wankhede Stadium
November 22, 2011
When England won the last Test to be played here in March 2006, they did so with a top seven that had just 136 caps between them. It was Sachin Tendulkar's 132nd game but once India blundered by opting to bowl first, England relied on diligent batting and tremendously disciplined bowling to script a famous 212-run victory. Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire provided the soundtrack.
It's far too early to say which way this game will go, but the callow nature of a West Indies batting line-up missing the experience of Shivnarine Chanderpaul brought back memories of that match. England could at least fall back on the example set by Andrew Flintoff, who was playing his 59th Test. West Indies have no one of comparable stature, with Marlon Samuels - whose career has had more stops and starts than a cab in Mumbai traffic - the most experienced batsman (36 games).
Between them, the six specialist batsmen and Carlton Baugh have played fewer games (86) than Virender Sehwag, who is now just eight caps short of hundred. But they were far from intimidated by the prospect of going into the match without their experienced lynchpin. Kraigg Brathwaite, who made 68 and added 137 with Adrian Barath for the first wicket, suggested that the approach had been no different even with the fulcrum taken away.
"As batsmen, we have to score runs," he said, speaking with the same composure that marked his batting. "That's the bottom line."
The openers eased into proceedings slowly, cautious against Varun Aaron's pace and not inclined to take risks till well into the second hour. "The ball did a bit early on," said Brathwaite. "But it was a good pitch, the best we've played on [in India] so far."
He bowled the odd full toss and strayed on to the pads occasionally, but R Ashwin represented India's biggest wicket-taking threat, eventually dismissing both openers. This was no spinner's paradise, though, with Brathwaite admitting that the ball turned so slowly that there was ample time to adjust strokes.
"As openers, we looked to get through the first hour," he said. "After that, we wanted to press on and give the team the best start possible." VVS Laxman reprieved Brathwaite at leg slip when he had 57, but it was otherwise another impressive display in concentration and application.
"Playing against India in India and making two 50s has given me a lot of confidence. It's not easy [Test cricket], but I have to keep moving on from here."
With the openers having established a solid foundation, Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo cashed in with some gorgeous strokeplay in the final session. On a surface where most batsmen will fancy a big score once set, neither looked askance at the loose ball. Edwards dealt in power, while Bravo's game was marked by his timing and placement.
"We'll look to bat two days, as India did in the last game," said a confident Brathwaite. "The mood in the dressing room's bubbly and we'll come out tomorrow and look to dominate."
India, for their part, will look to make sure that they aren't encircled by another ring of fire.
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