India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 5th day November 26, 2011

Teams' rookies could look ahead with optimism

What saved the game for West Indies was a spirit and unity of purpose that hasn't always been in evidence in the past decade, while R Ashwin and Virat Kohli showed signs of promise for India

Just over a decade ago, a young offspinner who would be named Man of the Series for his 32 wickets, squeezed a Glenn McGrath delivery through point to seal a nerve-shredding victory for India at Chepauk. On Saturday afternoon, as the shadows lengthened across the Wankhede Stadium, the man who has taken Harbhajan Singh's place in the team had a chance to accomplish something similar. R Ashwin had taken 22 wickets from three Tests and with a century in the first innings, it was a safe bet that the Man-of-the-Series honours would be heading his way.

The similarities ended there though. Harbhajan wasn't battling the clock. He also had Sameer Dighe at the other end, a street-smart veteran schooled in the Mumbai crucible. Ashwin's accomplice was Varun Aaron, playing his debut Test and with negligible first-class experience. Two were needed from two balls when Ashwin's attempt to work one through the leg side crashed into the pad off the inside edge. With Carlton Baugh on his toes, a single wasn't possible.

With the field then spread, the final delivery was thumped to long-on. Ashwin never seemed to think that two was on and despite Aaron haring back, his stately turn and canter back found him well short. Nearly 15 years on from Bulawayo and David Lloyd's "we flippin' murdered them" remark, cricket had only its second instance of a game drawn with scores level.

As the hobbling Darren Sammy and his team celebrated as their predecessors had at the Gabba half a century ago, it was hard not to look at the Indian dressing room and Virat Kohli's crestfallen face. Having batted beautifully to resurrect the chase in the final session, it was his miscued cut that opened a door that appeared to have slammed shut on the men from the Caribbean.

There were echoes of an earlier Chennai Test in the way the final moments played out. In January 1999, Sachin Tendulkar had overcome immensely skilful bowling and back spasms to take India within 17 runs of victory against Pakistan. Then, Saqlain Mushtaq produced a doosra and Tendulkar's attempt to clear mid-on looped up to mid-off. The remaining three batsmen were snuffed out and it was the visitors that did a lap of honour at the end of the game.

Tendulkar still calls it his worst moment in more than two decades of playing the sport. Kohli's reaction at the end suggested that the scars from this one-that-got-away will stay with him for a while.

In so many ways, this was a bizarre day. There was sharper turn for the spinners, but no demons in the pitch to account for 17 wickets falling. Compared to Indian 'specials', like Bangalore 1987 or the Wankhede 2004, this was positively placid, with just the odd ball taking off from a length.

There were also no bowlers of McGrath's stature in action. Despite that, batsman after batsman, from both sides, fell to strokes that must have had the coaches seeking anger-management advice. Apart from Darren Bravo, deceived by the flight from Pragyan Ojha, and Ishant Sharma, cleaned up by reverse-swing from Ravi Rampaul, not one batsman could claim to have been undone by a great delivery.

What saved the game for West Indies was a spirit and unity of purpose that hasn't always been in evidence in the past decade. Sammy spoke afterward of Kirk Edwards at cover chanting "win or draw, win or draw". Defeat wasn't countenanced even with a bowler short and two men hobbling; their commitment would have gladdened the hearts of those who have seen better days.

Sammy, who scored a direct hit - Ashwin had just made his ground - at one stage while hopping across the ground like Long John Silver, epitomised that resolve. More talented cricketers have worn the maroon cap in the past 15 years. The vast majority, though, have lacked his humility and commitment to the cause. For a young team finding its way, he's the perfect leader.

As for India, who fell a few yards short of replicating the 1993 whitewash of England, a tour of Australia beckons. The best possible squad has been chosen, on form rather than reputation, and for once they'll get decent preparation as well.

It remains to be seen how the likes of Kohli and Ashwin react to this setback. MS Dhoni spoke of "learning from such mistakes". How well they do that will determine their futures. For now, both - like this young West Indies side - can look ahead with great optimism.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on November 28, 2011, 14:38 GMT

    Can we stop bashing Ashwin and, for a change, bash Dravid, Sachin, VVS and Captain Dhoni? Sehwag and Gambhir as well? So much for their seniority - failed when it mattered the most and Captain sends a rookie instead of Ojha. VVS and Sehwag had no business to play the shots that they played. Period! It's a batting failure by our seniors. How hard is that to understand? What's happening to us Indians? It's a shame that we should even think of bashing Ashwin. It's a team game and all the other blokes also need to contribute apart from Ash, Ojh and Kohli. For God's sake!! Stop bashing Ash and Kohli. It's their sin that they brought it this far. Sachin is happy with his 3, Dravid is fine with his 33, VVS is happy with his ridiculous pull! Not a word against those 3 and Sehwag is happy with his laidback deplorable reverse sweep so early during the chase. Natural game! huh? No problem if he got out to a proper cricket shot. Not a word against him! Wah bhai wah! Great going Indian Fans!

  • Srinivas on November 28, 2011, 14:37 GMT

    @Rumy1, what experience of Harbhajan Singh are we going to miss IN Australia? Take each wicket at an average of 80+ over a career spanning 10 years? If he had guile why would his average be so high IN Australia? He is a finger spinner and will struggle on unhelpful flat tracks of Australia if he doesn't have guile and his stats IN Australia prove that he doesn't have guile. Bhajji must be thanking his lucky stars that he wasn't picked in the squad lest he might be mashed into Pav Bhaaji. LOL....

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2011, 14:06 GMT

    To win, you must first stop losing. West Indies in the last few months, under Otis Gibson and Darren Sammy, have certainly learned that lesson. More importantly, they have taken a group of scrappy, talented youngsters and brought the fight to the number one team at home. I have never been one of those West Indians who saw Sammy as a pretender. Rather, I saw him as a player with more heart than talent, perhaps, but with something more important--belief in himself and his team and a strong work ethic. Belief in the idea that we could rise again. Finer batsmen and bowlers have worn the maroon and have scoffed at his inclusion. But he is a man for the times, and this is a team that will back itself and learn from its mistakes. I see no point in bemoaning missing players or long-gone glory days. Instead, I see a team that can grow to finally bring back WI pride. I support them all, 100%, as I have every team before. Win, lose or draw, they are my boys!

  • Rakesh on November 28, 2011, 13:43 GMT

    @Whip - Only time will tell. Batting order is as good as an average international team? Thats a bit harsh. Which team do u support by the way? Does it start with a P or E?

  • Rangarajan on November 28, 2011, 9:18 GMT

    @Rumy1: While you may have a point, 3 Tests is no measure for discarding someone as bad or hailing someone as good . . you play 98 tests and still cant take more than 9 wickets in Australia in 2 tours. . . or take just 1 wicket in 2 tests being senior spinner in England . . . or do nothing of note outside India, and cant even take wickets in Ranji trophy matches, may be then you can call someone as bad . . . Too early to call Ashwin just a Ranji bowler, as he has not played anything else. It is fast bowlers den and Ashwin might end up taking just as many wickets as Bhajji did . . . 9 wkts from 4 tests. Bhajji might create controversies, but his monkey gate did not win us the Sydney test. He was concealing his inability bowl through his so called aggression.

    Ashwin may not succeed in Aus. He may struggle, as he is touring there for the first time. But it is probability. Bhajji WILL DEFINITELY struggle. That is surety.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2011, 9:14 GMT

    Wonderful Game great advt for test Cricket But the West Indies must take the honour most before Before the start of the series India were expected Clinical 3-0 whitewashing the WIndies.Even though West Indies lost the series 0-2 They stunned and sweat India on many occasiion.They have their Chances in First Test and here at the Wankhede but its their Inexperience and most Inconsistency had made the difference

  • Munawar on November 28, 2011, 7:19 GMT

    I feel for Bhajji, Jaffer and Parthiv. Who is the third specialist opener for Australia tour. No one. If need be they will ask Rahane to fill in. Feel bad for Rahane as he is not an opener. I don't think it will be good for his career. In any case Jaffer is far more talented, technically more sound and much more experienced than likes of Rahane or Rohit. One fails to understand the blatant bias against Jaffer. On the other hand one fails to understand blatant favor for W.Saha. He somehow makes it to the team by hook or by crook. Parthiv again is made the casualty despite good performances both with bat and keeping. Despite 22 wicket haul by Ashwin in this series I still think Ashwin is a Ranji level off spinner who has a good carrom ball. Even West Indies batsmen had started reading his carrom ball well and had sorted him out by end of series. Favourable pitches and average west indies batsmen were the reasons behind Ashwin success. India will sorely miss Bhajji's experience and guile.

  • Shan on November 28, 2011, 7:10 GMT

    I am surprised many readers have blamed Ashwin for not taking the second run. The fact is there was no second run. Even if he had turned around earlier and attempted the second run, there was no way Ashwin could have made it. However, Ashwin should take the blame for taking a first ball single in two overs. With Varin Aron at the other end, instead of taking the single Ashwin should have waited and gone for a couple. Further, in my opinion, Virat Kohli, messed it up by going in for aggressive shots and missing instead of taking singles though the asking rate was quite comfortable - 32 off 42 deliveries.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2011, 7:04 GMT

    @ akram Ali... I completely AGREEEEE with you... Y.. Som useless people blaming Ashwin for his thinking cricketing Skill... See If Ashwin lost his wicket in last second ball of the Match.. Suddendly If India lost the 10th Wicket in the last Ball.. then it could have turn the result as "Windies Won the match by 1 run". Just think you Guys.........Well done Ashwin...... Keep rocking in Aus tour also....

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2011, 6:09 GMT

    Guys.. whats done is done. No point in arguing it out. Ashwin has shown to be the kind of player from the MS Dhoni school of sport: the thinking cricketer. And he has talent and relentlessly works towards achieving higher goals. We must encourage such change... And speculate whether he can achieve such a performance on an Aussie pitch against veteran Oz batsmen..... Go Ashwin, Go Virat... Let the era of the youngsters begin!!

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