Sometimes it really is better to watch cricket on TV. On Friday, the largest section of the small crowd at the Darren Sammy Stadium was a scattering of around 80 people at the Johnson Charles Stand. They all had a square-on view of proceedings, and, as a result, would have had no way of telling how much Bhuvneshwar Kumar was swinging the ball, or even in which direction.
If you miss that, you miss the essence of Bhuvneshwar.
Take, for instance, the 90th over of West Indies' innings. Marlon Samuels, batting on 48, had not faced Bhuvneshwar yet. Now he was facing him bowling with a nine-over-old ball. The first ball of the over was just short of a good length, on a sixth-stump line, and Samuels went on the back foot and poked it towards point. The second was fuller, along the same sort of line, and Samuels left it. Both balls had swung away from him.
Through this series, Samuels has shown an inclination to leave balls outside off stump. He had done this particularly well while making 37 on a damp first-day pitch at Sabina Park. Perhaps Bhuvneshwar sensed the wider line would not draw Samuels into a shot, and bowled his next ball closer to off stump, and fuller. This was another outswinger, but did not do any more than merely straighten. Samuels came forward, and pushed it into the covers. Then came a near-identical delivery; according to the Hawkeye trajectory viewer on ESPNcricinfo's scorecard, this ball pitched even closer to Samuels' off stump, but swung further. Samuels watched it well and ignored it.
It was a good leave, a tight leave. Perhaps that made Samuels relax for just a fraction of a second when Bhuvneshwar's next ball started at least two stumps wider outside off stump. Samuels' first instinct seemed to be to leave. It was only when the ball swerved into him, late in its trajectory, a few inches before pitching, did Samuels change his mind. By then it was too late, and the desperate chopping motion his bat made only deflected the ball onto the ground near his feet and then onto the stumps.
Over the course of those five balls, Bhuvneshwar had displayed exquisite control. The first two balls had pitched along the same line, but one was shorter and one fuller. The second and third had pitched on the same length, but one was wider and the other closer to off stump. The third and fourth balls, as mentioned earlier, were near-identical, except one had swung a little more than the other. That, perhaps, was the only element not entirely in Bhuvneshwar's control.
Each ball was partly like and partly unlike the previous one. All four had demanded the batsman's respect and full attention.
The fifth ball was entirely different, but Bhuvneshwar had given the batsman little clue that it would be so. Zoomed-in, slow-motion replays showed a slight change in grip, with the middle finger applying a little more pressure on the ball while delivering the outswinger and the index finger taking over for the inswinger. They showed a slight change in the angle of the seam, but it wasn't canted too far in either direction. It only takes the smallest slip in concentration for a batsman to miss cues that subtle.
In his previous over, Bhuvneshwar had dismissed Jermaine Blackwood, caught at second slip. In this case, he built the dismissal up over a longer period of time, bowling 19 successive dot balls to him. The first 12 seemed exploratory, some wider, some straighter, mostly outswingers, a few darting in. Blackwood seemed comfortable against the balls that were at or close to his stumps, even if his hands seemed a touch too firm in defence, and perhaps Bhuvneshwar sensed some unease while leaving outside off stump, something in his body language that suggested he was happier hearing the sound of bat on ball.
And so, in his next over, the 86th of West Indies' innings, he bowled his outswingers noticeably wider outside off stump, almost daring Blackwood to play. There were five outswingers in all, and he ignored four but nibbled at one and missed. Then, in the 88th over, Bhuvneshwar returned to a fourth-stump line. The second ball was perfect. On a good length, pulling Blackwood forward, on a fourth-stump line, swinging away, and inviting Blackwood to feel for it. He edged, Virat Kohli snapped it up, and Bhuvneshwar had his first Test wicket in a year and seven months. That wicket would be the first of five in 51 balls.
Bhuvneshwar was India's best bowler on their tour of England in 2014, teasing away in the corridor, bending the ball both ways, and taking 19 wickets in five Tests at an average of 26.63. Between that tour and this one, he had only played one Test, in Sydney, where he returned from an ankle injury but looked short of pace and match fitness, and finished with match figures of 1 for 168.
India had played ten Tests between Sydney and this one, and had used five other seam options in those matches. Bhuvneshwar had been part of their squad all that time. He just wasn't as quick as four of them, and was perhaps not as good a batsman as Stuart Binny when India needed an allrounder.
It needed a pitch like this one, with a bit of grass and the promise of carry, for India to call Bhuvneshwar off the bench in St Lucia. It probably also needed Umesh Yadav to underwhelm in the first two Tests. But as long as the wait was, and as frustrating as it may have been, it was over now. Bhuvneshwar was back, swinging the ball, bowling with a sense of artistry. It was great to watch, and even better on TV.