West Indies v India, 3rd Test, Dominica, 4th day July 9, 2011

Rope-a-dope day for West Indies

The home side showed a big heart in a stirring second session and seemed to be shutting the door on defeat in the evening before Harbhajan Singh intervened

"Sort of a dope on the ropes, letting Foreman swing away but, like in the picture, hit nothing but air," was how the boxing photographer George Kalinsky called Mohammad Ali's technique. You could say that about West Indies today, especially in that stirring second session where they showed a big heart. It was a raucous final session too; they seemed to be firmly shutting the doors on defeat but Harbhajan Singh, who was on top of his art throughout the day, opened the door ajar for a fascinating finish on the final day. Shivnarine Chanderpaul wedged himself in the way of victory and so much potential drama awaits us tomorrow.

The intensity today was crackling and it was cricket, lovely cricket. The afternoon session was taut with pressure, skill, increasing claustrophobia, a dropped catch, and the eventual release of the jail-break moment. The evening was filled with rambunctiousness and high drama.

It's to that afternoon session that we will return first. India hustled superbly, Harbhajan was buzzing and Munaf Patel had a plan, Kirk Edwards gritted it out and Chanderpaul hung on to his dear life as West Indies deployed rope-a-dope. They just couldn't finish the whole routine in the end as Harbhajan threw a sucker punch.

The afternoon was high drama. It's when the game was hanging on the edge, swaying towards India. Perhaps, an early finish was on cards, you wondered then. The context provided more drama. Edwards is a debutant, who was given wrongly out in the first innings. He seemed iffy against the short ball. He seemed almost strokeless in the afternoon initially. And then there was Chanderpaul, the last senior standing in this West Indies team with doomsday clouds hovering over him. It had threatened to rain in the morning but luckily, the sun was out by the noon. We had the best crowd of the Test series today. There were quite a few Indian fans, probably down from the US, hollering cheerfully at one corner. Around them and across them, at the grass mound, the West Indians sat under umbrellas, shielding themselves from the sun. The drama began to unravel.

Chances of a West Indian survival looked bleak. Harbhajan had tasted blood early when he lured Darren Bravo, shaken by a big turning leaping off break, to lob the next delivery to deepish wide mid-off where a man was placed exactly for that. Adrian Barath's iffy technique to seaming deliveries outside off had already consumed him by then.

India attacked with a combination of Harbhajan and Munaf. Late in the first session, against Harbhajan, Edwards had shown a reluctance to get on to the front foot. And so Harbhajan started the second with full deliveries just outside off but Edwards started to stretch forward. Harbhajan shifted to plan B, a path shown by Edwards himself by displaying a slight vulnerability in tackling offbreaks bouncing towards his hips. Harbhajan packed the close-in leg-side field and let rip. Edwards continued to waft at them but managed to wrist them down away from waiting palms.

Edwards did this through the day actually. First he would leave a door slightly ajar with a hint of a weakness, slowly correct it later and then firmly shut that trap. It was the same against Munaf who started with full-length deliveries outside off. Edwards groped at a few. Once, the ball cut past the edge and bounded off the thigh. Edwards soon started to leave expertly and block the deliveries in line with the stumps. Munaf shifted to his plan B - bowl bouncers. Edwards pulled the initial couple weakly - one flew off the top edge, one just about lobbed past square-leg and so Munaf persisted. India persisted. Edwards started to arch back better, but still a touch hesitantly, and play them. By the end, he was pulling them ferociously to the boundary. The crowd roared. The flags started to wave and they had a ball, egging on the debutant, in the final session.

Meanwhile, Chanderpaul was waging his own war. He was acutely uncomfortable against Harbhajan initially and Munaf was making him feel claustrophobic with the just-outside-off line. He pushed, prodded, stabbed against Harbhajan. The offbreaks leaped, some floated across with scrambled seam, a few lifted to hit the thigh, a few turned past the edge and all along there were nearly five men crowding him with their shadows and stares.

The rope-a-dope continued. And it nearly ended in the last over before tea when Chanderpaul stabbed a bouncing offbreak from Harbhajan to right of first slip where Rahul Dravid dropped a catch, which he would have swallowed on better days. Harbhajan took his hat and walked away to the dressing room. Dravid kept shaking his head as he strode off. That was the jail-break moment.

Post-tea Edwards had turned rambunctious. The crowd lapped it up in great delight. He pulled the seamers, moved down the track to Harbhajan, lapped the part-time spinners and had a ball. Chanderpaul cut, square drove and kept up his with nip-and-tuck routine.

One further tense moment awaited Edwards when, on 99, he pushed a delivery towards Harbhajan and ran for his life. For his hundred. Chanderpaul wasn't responding. Edwards froze. Harbhajan picked the ball and let rip and it travelled past Edwards - wonder what his heart-rate would have been at that moment - but it was wide of the stumps and an advancing MS Dhoni couldn't collect it too. Tension gave way to relief. He dropped his bat as he reached the other end. The relief turned into joy. He lifted his helmet and held his hands high in the air. All that afternoon caution and struggle had paid off.

Finally, West Indies batsmen were showing some heart. Finally, there was some just reward for that West Indian bowling unit, led by the admirable Fidel Edwards. And just when the bowlers might have eased back in the chair, Harbhajan charged India ahead.

He saw Dravid spill another chance, a much tougher one this time, off the back off Edwards' bat and moving diagonally across Dhoni, he witnessed an edge wobble past the lunging short-leg before he induced a fatal edge. Immediately, he swooped in for the kill and removed Marlon Samuels, who chose to dangerously hang back to full deliveries and was wrongly given out to a delivery that was missing the off stump. Harbhajan, who has so many critics railing against him, would have earned some admirers today.

Harbhajan has pushed India right on top here and has raised the possibility of a tricky little chase on the final afternoon of the series. However, today was a day that West Indies fans would look back with some fondness. A debutant sparkling with a hundred and a veteran admired by many and frowned upon by some, rediscovering himself in the moment of crisis. It wasn't just a smoke screen in the present-day Babylon. There was indeed some fire after all. India, though, seem to have the fire-extinguisher. Tomorrow will tell.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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  • RYAN on July 10, 2011, 17:46 GMT

    Followers of cricket may recall am certain name----Hamilton Masakadza. Still a teenager, he scored a century ( either on debut or in only his second test )against the WI. Since then he has not matched this standard and in fact was not even a permanent fixture in the Zimbabwe side. I say this as a word of caution to young r. Edwards and those who are rushing to lavish praise and think of him as the new WI batting sensation. Kirk, well done, but just remember that your next innings begins at 0 !!!!!

  • P Subramani on July 10, 2011, 13:26 GMT

    Kirk Edwards seems an intelligent lad who could be a future star. Not surprisingly has he been recognised by the West Indies selectors. He will improve tremendously as his career goes along if one can see how much he did even as this innings happened. His after-the -game presser, shows that he has the true calypso spirit of respect and a fine sense of humour. This West Indies team is on the rise. Let not anyone tell you otherwise. And Edwards looks and seems like another Dessie. Yes the great Des Haynes. And like the Nurses the Kanhais, he too seems a long innings player once he settles down. I remember in the olden days West Indies would be 27 for 3 at one point.There was no TV broadcasts those days. Just radio and one got to hear the Coziers and the Rutnagars late at night. Then those dark print headlines in the newspapers in the morning sayin West Indies 400 for 3. I know I am rambling a bit but that is how it used to be in the Carribean in those days. I can see their glory again.

  • Steve on July 10, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    It's heartening to see WI fight back finally. After Bravo's fall, it seemed like the old script and I was expecting WI to fold on the 4th day itself weighted down by the big deficit. Hope Shiv gets a ton and WI set Ind a tough target. Nothing less would do justice to WI fightback. Glad the series is ending on a high note and not a damp squib due to loss of time on first 2 days.

  • Satish on July 10, 2011, 9:29 GMT

    @CRam, yeah you are totally right. After all, just 200 catches and like Tendulkar's 51 hundreds they were never ever useful for India, were they?

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2011, 8:03 GMT

    That was one of the best bulletins I have read in a while. Keeping in mind Harsha Bhogle's recent lament that editors don't seem to care about journalists who can weave a tale and paint a picture of the day's play before a reader who hasn't seen the play, I'm sure Sambit Bal would love your work. I'm tempted to give you the highest compliment a sports writer can get- your article reminded me of Nirmal Shekar's reports in The Hindu of Wimbledon matches from a few years ago. Keep up the good work :) Best, Rajiv

  • Prabhu on July 10, 2011, 5:22 GMT

    I am beginning to like the writing of Sriram Veera> A lot like reading R Mohan and Nirmal Shekar who I have grown up reading in The Hindu and Sportstar. At the least his opening paragraphs makes me compare some of the writing. Feels good.

  • Rahul on July 10, 2011, 5:21 GMT

    Probably the best day of cricket in this reverting test series..! Lets hope that rain stays away and we have a result..!

  • Chandrasekharan on July 10, 2011, 4:01 GMT

    All I can say is Dravid invariably manages to drop catches at critical junctures of the game. Would be interesting to know how many he has dropped (as against the ones he has pouched) after which the batsmen have saved the game for their sides!

  • Goverdhan on July 10, 2011, 4:01 GMT

    Very well written indeed .. Sriram Veera rocks !! You jus get the felling that u r reading some kind of thrilling detective novel .. He has left reader with the felling of what-is-comin-next despite the reader knowing the climax .. can't admire more .. waiting for your 5th day expert comments .. cheers.

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2011, 3:57 GMT

    Yeah, WI seem to have regained the stomach for fight - only just. After the piece on VVS, another good piece by Sriram Veera. The rope-a-dope metaphor is very apt.

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