Lara defends follow-on decision
Within half an hour of the fourth day's play, three wickets had eloped with Jerome Taylor. His first victim was Rahul Dravid, caught on 22 with the overnight score only rising by seven to 157. It changed expectations of a long day of Indian batting right up to another draw. When the next two ran off with the score unmoved on 159 - ducks to both Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif - expectations of at least a batting fiesta dimmed. All eyes had turned to Mahendra Singh Dhoni to inject some wildness into the equation, but with half an hour before lunch, he was lbw to Corey Collymore.
It was a day that surprised by how well it favoured the West Indian fast bowlers, especially given the flat nature of the pitch that demanded a workingman's application to yield anything. Three wickets went to Collymore, the hardest working man on the team, as reward for his endurance. Two went to Pedro Collins, though at the end of the day he pulled up with cramps and had to leave the field. There is hope that overnight rest will restore him. Two went to Dwayne Bravo, the slowest of the quartet of bowlers.
But they all had their pickings mainly thanks to Taylor running off with the middle order. It must have been a boost to Taylor, struggling back after going empty-handed in the previous games. With only five Tests under his belt, one would have thought it would have merited a whole heap of celebration, but at the post-match press conference, he was strangely unenthusiastic.
Asked whether he had enjoyed the pitch, "absolutely not!" came his emphatic response. It was not a helpful pitch, he complained, it forced the bowler to have to work too hard. His captain didn't mind that quality too much: "It's a pitch where you have to work hard. It's a good pitch, a bit of unevenness at times but you got to cater for that in a Test. I was quite pleased with the outcome of it. Guys have to work hard and they are putting in the hard work. With five days of cricket, any surface tends to deteriorate. We're hoping that would happen tomorrow," Lara said.
So it seemed odd to hear Taylor express such disdain to the demands of a pitch that had yielded three quickies in short time, but then he also admitted that he was happy with his captain's choice not to send the Indian team back in even when they were 219 behind in the first innings. Lara's choice to bat again had stumped most. Explaining that his bowlers were tired and Collins had seemed iffy, Lara said there was never any question in his mind about sending India back in. "Why will I enforce the follow-on with 221 runs when I have the chance to defend 400 and bowl the opposition out rather than asking them to bat and maybe having to bat again?" he asked impatiently. "It's a situation where the pitch is going to deteriorate on the last day and you want as much of advantage as possible. You want your bowlers fresh and I don't think there was any other way to look at it."
It was clear that there would not have been support from his bowlers had he chosen to do otherwise. Taylor, at 22, might have been expected to be pumped up and ready to go given his early success. Indeed, in extraordinarily hot conditions, they had actually bowled out the opposition in one day. But Taylor was not at all enthusiastic at the prospect, coldly pointing out the fact that he had bowled 25 overs in the day and would be happier to have a break before coming back to bowl another 25. Fast bowlers are not known to love long spells, except maybe Wes Hall, but Taylor will find that sometimes duty calls beyond love. If Collins were to have been more seriously injured, Taylor's 25 overs would have been just the beginning of a long spell if he, and the team, wanted an outright victory.
Lara said that he wanted to put the pressure on India and it is clear he is contemplating more than a draw. "Coming into the match we talked about doing what India had done to us in the previous games - putting runs on the board and putting pressure. That's what happened. Getting 580-odd definitely put India on the back foot. India had to fight to get into a position of safety and so far they haven't." Once again, anything is possible.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad