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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
November 26, 2011
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 ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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