Second Test

West Indies v India, 2005-06

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

At Gros Islet, St Lucia, June 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2006. Drawn. Toss: India.

And then came a letdown. The greenish pitch, which dominated all the pre-match talk, turned into a batting beauty - and a positive result, seemingly certain at the end of the third day, was washed away by rain. West Indies entered the fifth day needing to repeat the doughtiness they displayed in Antigua, and Lara ensured that they left St Lucia with the series still wide open.

The game had started uncomfortably for him. West Indies had misread the pitch and chosen five fast bowlers, and then had to endure a 78-ball hundred - India's thirdfastest - from Sehwag. Despite the slow outfield, he slashed his first ball for four, and by the tenth over had spread the field; not till the 11th did he play and miss; by the 12th, he had shredded Bravo's confidence; by the 15th, he had reached 75 off 47 balls. Sehwag came within one run of becoming the first Indian to score a hundred before lunch in a Test, and he finally fell after tea, having hit 180 off 190 deliveries. It was his 12th Test century, the last eight all exceeding 150. Sehwag later said he had "never hit the ball more cleanly".

The calm at the other end went almost unnoticed. Dravid cruised to yet another hundred, his 23rd in Tests, and Kaif brought up a memorable first one. Dravid marched confidently, blunting the bowlers with dogged defence and denting their morale with precise placement, but Kaif took some time to find his feet. He struck only one four in his first 71 balls, but picked up the pace once set. He was served up some innocuous bowling as well - Gayle and Sarwan sent down 39 overs - and went on to his highest first-class score.

What followed was a steady crumble. Patel reduced West Indies to 36 for two before Kumble took the prize wicket of Lara, who padded up to one that straightened. On a pitch that was still playing true, West Indies' batting gradually disintegrated in the face of disciplined bowling. Pathan, in a five-over spell that proved to be the highlight of his otherwise forgettable tour, accounted for the limpet-like Chanderpaul, and Kumble winkled out Bravo, the last line of resistance. The tail was swallowed up by an unlikely demon. Sehwag, filling in for the injured Harbhajan Singh, and resembling Casper the Friendly Ghost after a recent haircut, showed all the attributes of a genuine off-spinner, overcoming the flatness of the pitch and finishing with three for 33. India led by 373, and predictably enforced the follow-on.

With two full days remaining, West Indies needed some divine intervention, and they got it. "God is a West Indian," joked Greg Chappell during a fourth day of unrelenting gloom, with no hint of a breeze to clear up the clouds.

The weather set up the stalemate, but Lara sealed it. Making amends for his recent second-innings failings - he hadn't managed a fifty in 19 attempts over almost two and a half years - he grafted an uncharacteristic, but memorable, 120, taking 272 balls to reach three figures, the slowest of his 32 Test centuries. For much of the time he stood more than a foot outside his crease, to nullify any swing. Against the spinners he pushed fully forward to reduce the chance of lbws, which helped him survive two close appeals at 42 and 69. India were left to rue their close catching. Kaif and Yuvraj Singh looked out of place at silly mid-on, making regulation chances look tough, and Dravid and Wasim Jaffer, part of a regularly shuffled slip cordon, shelled a catch apiece. India would probably have won but for the rain - but they should have won anyway.

Man of the Match: V. Sehwag.

© John Wisden & Co.