Dravid masterclass puts India on top
On a Sabina Park track with plentiful turn and unpredictable bounce Rahul Dravid gave a resounding reminder of his value to the side with his 32nd Test century that put India on top in Jamaica. After his painstakingly constructed innings left West Indies an exacting target of 326, the home side's openers began the pursuit with an exhilarating flurry of strokes before a pair of superb catches slowed West Indies' charge. Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo resisted for the final hour to keep the home side's hopes alive.
Dravid, the oldest active Test cricketer, put together a masterclass reminiscent of his 2006 heroics, silencing any murmurs about his place in the side being in doubt after a barren South African tour and the emergence of a slew of youngsters. Darren Sammy captured four wickets, but he will probably still be regretting the simple slip chance he put down when Dravid had made just 6.
In an innings where the next highest scorer was No. 10 Amit Mishra with 28, Dravid prospered with the method that has worked so well for him over the past 150 Tests: playing old-school defensive cricket, shelving the fancy strokes and grinding down the opposition.
India got an early sign of the troubles ahead for the batsmen when the second ball of the day shot through, barely rising off the ground. Later in the day, a delivery from legspinner Devendra Bishoo bounced viciously, forcing the wicketkeeper to jump and try to collect it overhead.
Dravid was patient as ever in the morning session, making only 23 in two hours, even his defensive shots ending with an exaggerated freeze of the bat. A couple of milestones came up through fours past gully, both controlled glides - the first brought up his half-century, and the next pushed India's lead past 200.
His overnight partner Virat Kohli didn't last long on the third morning, gloving a short ball down the leg side to the keeper. Suresh Raina, confident after his first-innings 82, hung around longer. He wasn't at his most assured though, edging one between second slip and gully, as the West Indies bowlers kept probing away.
A sore knee delayed the introduction of Bishoo, who made an immediate impact, inducing Raina to swipe at a ball spinning down the leg side. It was unclear whether there was any bat or glove involved but umpire Daryl Harper was convinced there was after the ball ricocheted off the wicketkeeper's thigh pad to leg slip.
That brought in MS Dhoni, who seemed a man in a hurry, clouting Bishoo for a straight six. He had moved to 16 off 15 balls before slashing Bishoo to point moments before lunch. Replays showed that Bishoo had cut the return crease when delivering the ball.
Soon after lunch, India lost a third batsman to a dicey decision, when Harbhajan Singh was given lbw with the ball likely to have sailed over the stumps. Expect more UDRS headlines.
When Praveen Kumar was bowled by Sammy for a second-ball duck, India were eight down with the lead 256; a quick end to the innings would have raised West Indies hopes. Instead they were flattened by a dogged Dravid, who added 56 vital runs with Mishra for the ninth wicket. Dravid shielded the tailender at times though Mishra was rarely in too much discomfort.
Soon after Dravid reached his century with a single to the off side, Mishra swung a few boundaries before holing out to third man attempting a flamboyant hit. A rare sight then followed, a six from Dravid in Tests - only his 19th in 261 innings. Another Dravid attempt to mow the ball only reached mid-on, closing the innings and giving Bishoo his fourth wicket.
India were in command at that stage, but instead of being demoralised by the large target, West Indies' openers, Adrian Barath and Lendl Simmons, unleashed a counterattack that would have pleased the onlooking Chris Gayle. Barath was the leader, crashing two sixes in an over that ended Ishant Sharma's spell. Simmons was unbothered by being beaten by a perfect Praveen outswinger, powerfully square cutting the next ball for four.
With the boundaries flowing, the pair sprinted past 50 in the 10th over. Soon after, Praveen induced an edge off Barath to the vacant third slip. Dhoni strengthened the cordon and in the same over another nick flew to third slip where Raina plucked a sharp, overhead catch. Three deliveries later, Virat Kohli latched on to an even tougher chance, throwing himself to his left at gully to extend Ramnaresh Sarwan's miserable run.
When Ishant cleaned up Simmons with a terrific delivery that straightened, West Indies had slid from 62 for 0 to 80 for 3. Another familiar collapse seemed to have begun, but Bravo and Chanderpaul scrapped till stumps. Both had some anxious moments - Bravo chancing his luck by cutting deliveries too close to his body and Chanderpaul facing some loud lbw shouts - but the pair persevered, adding 51 runs to set up an intriguing fourth, and likely final, day.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo