Third Test Match

India v West Indies

At Kolkata, October 30, 31, November 1, 2, 3, 2002. Drawn. Toss: India.

There was no better venue for a turnaround. The last Test at Kolkata had seen one of the most dramatic fightbacks of all time, when Laxman had scored 281 and Harbhajan Singh had spun India to victory over Australia after following on. Here, West Indies sprung a surprise even before the toss: they named a side without a specialist spinner, something unprecedented in almost 70 years of Test cricket at Eden Gardens. The positive intent was followed by spirited cricket, and they might have won but for a backs-to-the-wall stand between Tendulkar and, once again, Laxman.

India batted more like the West Indians had been doing. Eight got starts, but only Bangar crossed 50; partnerships sprang up, only to be uprooted against the run of play. The only dismissal actually plotted was Tendulkar's, frustrated into indiscretion by the familiar geometry of a 7-2 field and a negative line outside off. The brightest moments came from a 77-run stand between Bangar and Laxman straight after tea. Bangar moved up a couple of gears, pulling and driving with elegant ease to match Laxman himself. Still, it took 46 off 40 balls from Srinath next morning to get India past 300.

Gayle and Hinds responded with grim determination and an opening stand of 172, perhaps feeling in their guts what Hooper had articulated beforehand: that the West Indians were "playing for pride". They used their feet superbly against Harbhajan Singh and Kumble, and easily nullified their leg-stump line of attack.

But the partnership of the innings belonged to Chanderpaul and Samuels, who moved West Indies into the lead while adding 195. Chanderpaul equalled his highest Test score, batting with customary assurance against spin - first the grind, then the blast. He smashed Kumble for four fours and a six in two overs, and reduced Harbhajan to an outside-leg line of containment. Samuels had almost been sent home after breaking a curfew at a disco, but now he danced to his maiden Test century. Circumspect at first, he opened out with some gorgeous drives and pulls, his effortless flair evoking West Indian batting of an earlier era.

The last five wickets tumbled in an hour on the fourth morning, and a 139-run lead did not look much on a good pitch - until India slid to 49 for three before lunch. The collapse was in part manufactured: Dravid was given out leg-before off an inside edge for the second time in the match, and after the interval Ganguly got his third doubtful lbw decision in four innings. With India four down and 52 behind, an upset seemed in the offing. Then, Tendulkar stepped up.

A common criticism of Tendulkar has been that, at the crunch, he crumbles. As if to counter that, he has transformed himself from a spontaneous marauder to a purposeful innings builder. His average has not suffered, but his aura has diminished. In this daunting situation, would he dig in or hit out? He did both, imperiously progressing to 176, his maiden Test century at Kolkata, and occupied the crease for seven hours to save the match. He did this with minimum risk and to maximum effect: unlike lesser batsmen, he looked least likely to get out when most dominant. This was the Tendulkar of old, re-emerging when India most needed him.

The Old Tendulkar was accompanied by the New Laxman. After his legendary 281, Laxman had nearly lost his place, playing one graceful cameo after another without building any more monuments. But he had re-invented himself as a dependable No. 6, and here he put together another Kolkata masterclass. He was the perfect support act in a stand of 214 spanning 70 overs, an Indian fifth-wicket record against West Indies.

The last afternoon was a disappointment. As India's lead climbed towards 200, Ganguly might have declared and gone for a win. With the series secure, he let it drift. After the outstanding efforts of Tendulkar and Laxman, who remained unbeaten after nearly nine hours, the end was not worthy of the means.

Man of the Match: S. R. Tendulkar. Man of the Series: Harbhajan Singh.

Close of play: First day, India 275-6 (Patel 18, Harbhajan Singh 3); Second day, West Indies 189-3 (Gayle 80, Chanderpaul 1); Third day, West Indies 446-5 (Chanderpaul 136, Samuels 89); Fourth day, India 195-4 (Tendulkar 114, Laxman 30).

© John Wisden & Co