Weakened Windies show fight
They were walking wounded by the end of the day. Darren Sammy's right knee had given up, Fidel Edwards was squeezing out the ice pack, Devendra Bishoo was knackered and the fielders were tired. The physio CJ Clarke was a busy man. Yet, it was a day on which West Indies can look back and feel proud. India held the advantage at the end but they had to really sweat it out to get there.
By the end of it, Sammy was a physical wreck. His ankles were heavily taped, he could barely walk, and he was hurting all over. "I can't even tell exactly where it is hurting," Sammy said. "The pain is everywhere. We are going about our recovery. We will be fresh tomorrow, ready to battle again."
The West Indian fans must have arrived at the ground on the third day in Dominica concerned. West Indies did not have the services of an injured Ravi Rampaul and were playing with three bowlers. Two and a half if you believe Darren Sammy's critics. The fans must have wondered how the day would pan out. Perhaps India would pile on the runs and West Indian shoulders would droop. The sun was out, the clouds weren't pregnant with rain, and the fans might have fretted in anticipation of a long-day's "licks".
Sammy, though, still had faith that West Indies could bowl India out on the third day. "The belief in the bowling unit is quite high. We knew it was going to be tough, and we said that if we bowl at the right areas and create pressure there is a possibility of bowling them out. We got six wickets on a flat pitch. Kudos to the bowlers."
The bad news for West Indies is that they will have to make do with three bowlers on the fourth day as well. "The umpires have said that Rampaul can't bowl till Sunday. He has to spend the amount of time he lost back on the field in order to bowl."
After two days of rain, the track on the third day was sluggish but had no venom in it. The ball briefly swung and seamed in the morning, and West Indies took care of M Vijay and Rahul Dravid in that phase. But the movement died out with the increasing ferocity of the sun. Through the series, and even before that, Sammy and Ottis Gibson have been insisting that all is well with the West Indies bowling; it's the batting that has repeatedly let them down. Friday offered the greatest proof of that. Sure, India ended the day on a high, and have control over the game, but West Indies fought hard through the day.
The day's cricket wasn't exciting by any means but it was interesting to see an attack try to cope with the loss of a leading bowler. Once the movement evaporated from the track, West Indies' plans slowly came to the fore. To Abhinav Mukund, they packed the off side and bowled well outside off. It might have been boring to some but it was the right strategy. Abhinav kept leaving. West Indies kept bowling outside off. Slowly Abhinav started to shuffle across and tuck balls away for singles. West Indies stuck to the plan. The runs came at a slow pace and West Indies ensured India weren't running away with the game.
To VVS Laxman, at one point, Sammy had a short midwicket, short square-leg and mid-on. It's a tactic the Australians have employed: try to get Laxman by making him wary of playing his favourite shots; or at least keep him tied down. West Indies were able to do the latter. Once, Laxman nearly flicked to the square-leg fielder and Sammy held his head in agony. It was clear that Laxman was aware of the field and he started to push the ball straighter, to mid-on. Deliveries on leg and middle, which he would normally whip away with glee, were being patted down to mid-on.
It was some surprise that the breakthrough eventually came from Devendra Bishoo, for he was the worst of the regular bowlers on Friday. The control over length deserted him and he was often short. Sammy then made him go around the wicket and bowl outside leg to Laxman. Again that short midwicket and square-leg hovered around. The runs came in a trickle. Suddenly, Bishoo got one to turn, bounce and stop on Abhinav, who stabbed it to short-leg.
Sammy brought on Chanderpaul, who seems to be a crowd favourite in Dominica. They gave him rousing cheers during his batting and were madly behind him when he was bowling. He moved the extra cover a few inches to the left, shifted the deep midwicket two feet to the right and the crowd loved it. And then it happened. Laxman dragged his heel in the air and was pickpocketed by Carlton Baugh, one of the real finds of this tour for West Indies. Earlier he had taken a sharp catch, standing up to the stumps and moving quickly to the leg side, to remove Virat Kohli off Sammy.
Baugh had got a half-century for West Indies on the second day, and Sammy said he was always expecting Baugh to contribute both behind the stumps and with the bat. "Baugh has worked hard on his keeping and we all know what he can do with the bat. He has 11 first-class hundreds. It was a matter of time before he contributed. His keeping through the series has been excellent. The more games he plays, the better he gets."
With Laxman's exit, India were wobbling at 172 for 5. However, West Indies were left gasping for breath, literally, in the post-tea session and the India batsmen took advantage of the tired outfit. The decision of when to use the second new ball was a tricky one and it showed in the relief-soaked cry of Sammy when Edwards removed Suresh Raina with the first delivery after it had been taken. "It was a hard decision to take the new ball. Fidel had already bowled 19 overs. I had bowled 20-plus. It was asking a lot of Fidel to come in running hard, and to get that reward immediately was quite satisfying."
At the start of the day, India would have looked to bat just one innings and try to bowl out West Indies for an innings defeat. By the end, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina were fighting to extend the lead. It's still India who hold the advantage of course but to see West Indies fight on a day where many expected them to just roll over and surrender must have warmed the hearts of the fans. And to think that West Indies were playing with two-and-a- half men. Or so they said.
Sammy ended his press conference on a note of hope. "The wicket looks quite easy to bat on. When we get another chance, hopefully we can put up our best batting display of the series."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo