First Test

West Indies v India, 2005-06

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

At St John's, June 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 2006. Drawn. Toss: India. Test debut: V. R. Singh.

The Antigua Recreation Ground has long been the home of batting records and highscoring draws. But the lack of results did not diminish the allure of the place fondly referred to as "the pasture" or "the Rec". With the nearby Sir Viv Richards Stadium set to be ready for the 2007 World Cup, this Test was expected to be the ARG's last international. Almost inevitably, it ended in another run-banquet - more surprisingly, it also produced one of Test cricket's tensest finishes.

The pitch was also an unexpected one. On the first day at least, it crackled with life, thanks to some grass on a good length. Dravid knew he would bat first given the choice, but decided to give himself an extra seam option in case he was asked to field. Vikram Singh, 21, was making his debut in a fast-bowling trio that had four Test caps between them, as the out-of-form Pathan was omitted.

None of this, though, mattered in the opening stages, when India no doubt wished they had chosen 11 batsmen. They struggled to 235 for nine, living (or perishing) on the edge: six were caught behind the wicket off the outside edge, one inside-edged into the stumps, another skied a top-edge. Eight men reached double figures, but no one could resist the temptation to drive when the ball was pitched up. Collymore and Bravo did most of the enticing, taking seven wickets between them and conceding less than two an over. Dravid stood defiant for more than four hours, constructing a watchful 49, but his vigil ended when he was given out caught off what should have been called a no-ball from Collymore.

Then normal service resumed. With the track easing out, and India's seamers spraying it around, West Indies thrived. Gayle provided the early propulsion before Sarwan and Bravo consolidated with bouncing fifties. By mid-morning on the third day, India were batting again, 130 behind. But the pitch was far easier now, and the batsmen had some more encouragement when the fiery Edwards hobbled off with a hamstring injury.

Wasim Jaffer, dismissed by Edwards in the first innings, cashed in, becoming only the fourth Indian, after Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Sardesai and Navjot Singh Sidhu, to make a Test double-century in the Caribbean. The start was edgy, the middle steady, the end emphatic. He was becalmed in the eighties, but soon shed his inhibitions and reached his second Test hundred. He began the fourth day with a stroke of good fortune, edging through the vacant second slip, but was assured from then on. He occupied 503 minutes and 399 balls, hitting 24 fours and a six.

Around him, there were some important cameos, of which Dhoni's 52-ball 69 was the most entertaining. Bradshaw's heroic 25-over spell - he bowled unchanged for the equivalent of two whole sessions, conceding only 47 - helped check the run-rate and delay the declaration. It finally came with India 391 ahead, but not without 15 minutes of drama. Dhoni biffed Mohammed to deep midwicket, where Ganga held the catch. However, even after many TV replays no one was sure whether his foot had touched the boundary line as he did so. Dhoni, after taking a few steps towards the pavilion, stood his ground, waiting for a decision, but lack of evidence left the umpires clueless. Lara wagged a finger at Asad Rauf and - while fulminating about the spirit of the game, of all things - snatched the ball from his grasp, and asked Dhoni to walk off. He did, and Dravid declared, leaving West Indies 95 overs to negotiate.

At lunch on the final day, with three wickets in the bag including Lara for a duck, India seemed to be on their way. A stodgy partnership between Gayle and Chanderpaul, which lasted more than a session, ate up valuable time, but the slide restarted after tea, and India entered the final hour needing three wickets. Mohammed's wild flailing proved a frustrating barrier - whether he was trying to save, win, or lose the game was anybody's guess - but it was eventually Edwards and Collymore, childhood mates from the Barbadian village of Boscobelle, who kept out the last 19 balls and clinched the draw.

Ganga, on as runner for the hamstrung Edwards, did his bit to calm the pair down. So tense was it that even the dancing in the stands came to a halt. As Sreesanth ran up for the final ball, the gaps in the low-lying walls on the prison side of the ground were studded with watching heads. And so the much-loved ARG got the farewell it deserved.

Man of the Match: Wasim Jaffer.

© John Wisden & Co.