Solid India rule out defeat, set for victory push
India batted West Indies out of the game through a cautious second-innings effort on the fourth day. Only 90 minutes were lost to rain, a vast improvement on the previous two days, but scoring remained difficult on a difficult track with ample bounce and seam movement. West Indies were thwarted by two rookies - Abhinav Mukund and Virat Kohli - and two veterans - Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. At some time during the Dravid-Laxman association, the hosts resigned themselves to waiting for a declaration.
The declaration wasn't quite on India's mind on the fourth day; they needed to make sure they got into a position of safety first. Looking at just the scorecard, it might be easy to criticise India's pace - 206 runs added in 83.2 overs - but on the lively pitch that must have also retained moisture, under overcast skies, with low bounce creeping in, and on a heavy outfield, they couldn't quite afford to be casual.
That batting wouldn't be easy was clear from the first 10 minutes or so, when Ravi Rampaul removed M Vijay with a late outswinger. Another low score wasn't a great result for Vijay a day before selection for the England tour.
Dravid had similar problems with away swing and extra bounce, but he managed to keep the ball down with soft hands and an angled bat, getting eight runs off two deliveries that could have easily taken his wicket early on. The bottom hand kept coming off the bat as Rampaul got the ball to rear up from a length. Dravid was 9 off 32 when he flicked uppishly towards square leg, but the replays couldn't conclusively prove that Adrian Barath completed a clean catch. Nor did the replays prove otherwise.
While Dravid remained solid after that shot, Abhinav gave a better account of himself than he did in Jamaica. As Sunil Gavaskar observed, he made an adjustment to his technique, preferring moving back and across to the forward press that was a feature of his batting in Jamaica. He wasn't completely comfortable, but he didn't back away from the menacing bounce. He copped one on the helmet, but otherwise picked runs off deflections. Once in, he played a good-looking cover-drive off the comparatively slower Darren Sammy, and was good square on off side against the quicker bowlers too.
Fidel Edwards, though, softened him up with bouncers after lunch. After he managed to get out of the line of two accurate bouncers, both kicking off a length, Abhinav got one with his name on it. This time he dropped the bottom hand, but the ball had the top hand on its mind, denying him what would have been a maiden international fifty.
That brought together the old firm of Dravid and Laxman, who denied the bowlers until they started bowling well outside off. Laxman, who scored 85 in the first innings, looked hardly in any trouble. He was welcomed with a searing bouncer, but the next one he pulled away for four.
The ball still misbehaved, the bat handles still kept getting jammed, the bats still kept getting beaten, but the outside edges were not to be found. Inch by inch, the partnership aggregate went to 3,682 runs, No. 11 on the all-time list. Unsurprisingly a ridiculously misjudged single provided West Indies the only chance during their 65-run partnership, but the throw from cover missed the stumps. Dravid was 32 then, India 111. By the time the next chance arrived, through a fastish offcutter from Edwards, Dravid had reached 55, and India 154.
Then came a spell of play Kohli will look back at with much satisfaction. Edwards to Kohli so far in the series has featured bouncers, fuller ones, blown kisses, patted backs. Edwards resumed much of the same. Two slips, a gully, a forward short leg and a backward short leg awaited as Edwards bowled bouncers in the vicinity of 90mph. The first few weren't quite accurate, and Kohli avoided them. At the other end, incredibly Kohli was allowed to bat with a long-off in place. He still was in no hurry, and was still on a pair when Edwards started afresh. This bouncer was accurate, jumped towards Kohli's throat, hit the handle, and fell just wide of the diving forward short leg. Eighteen balls on a pair. A near catch. Laxman walked up, said something, patted Kohli's back. Next ball bouncer. Back in the crease. Pull. Six.
This series is the first time in Kohli's career that he has been made to look a bit out of place, but he fought with discipline to come back unbeaten on 25 off 97. After testing him at the start of the innings, West Indies were too quick to spread the fields, and didn't even take the new ball in the evening, an acceptance that only one team could now force a result.
Walking back with Kohli was Laxman, whom West Indies failed to ruffle. The pair had helped give India an opportunity to score quick runs on the fifth morning and allow their bowlers to have a crack at West Indies in the chase.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo