Third Test

West Indies v India, 2005-06

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

At Basseterre, St Kitts, June 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 2006. Drawn. Toss: West Indies.

The first Test at Warner Park, the 94th ground to stage one, began in uncertainty but ended as expected. A last-minute contracts ultimatum from the West Indies Players' Association overshadowed all else on the eve of the match but, once that was resolved and the action began, on another shirt-front and with clouds hovering, a high-scoring draw was always the most likely result.

The roles were reversed this time. West Indies gained the advantage at the toss, and piled up 581 before it was their turn to be thwarted by rain and opposition grit. Lara's decision not to enforce the follow-on, after gaining a lead of 219, was controversial but justifiable, and probably made little difference to the outcome. India momentarily threatened to pull off an extraordinary victory, with 134 needed from the last 20 overs with seven wickets in hand, but Lara immediately switched from attack to defence, which ended the contest.

Andy Atkinson, the cheery English groundsman, was called up late on to oversee the pitch preparation, and had the grass - what little there was - shaved off on the eve of the match. Lara, who had said he wanted a fast track, could only look bemused; luckily for him he won the toss and watched his batsmen cash in. Ganga (under pressure, partly due to 87 runs in four innings, and partly because he was seen as the one keeping the local hero Runako Morton out of the side) delivered a composed third Test century.

Ganga's solidity at one end was complemented by aggressive bursts at the other. An assault by Gayle on Harbhajan Singh, playing his first match of the series, set the tone before Sarwan raced to an aggressive hundred, hurrying from 75 to 99 with six successive boundaries off Munaf Patel, who joined Bob Willis and Matthew Hoggard in conceding six fours in a Test match over. Brian Jerling, the 47-year-old umpire from Port Elizabeth officiating in his first Test, made India's job harder, failing to spot two bat-pad nicks and turning down a number of confident lbw shouts.

West Indies lost the plot halfway through the third morning, managing only 20 runs in the 14 overs before lunch as Chanderpaul neared his hundred. He was finally left stranded on 97, as the rest perished trying to attack; Harbhajan mopped up the tail. It was the first time in more than ten years that West Indies had passed 560 in the first innings outside Antigua.

India's reply began confidently. They were 150 for two when the fourth day began, but were set back by a fine exhibition of pacy swing bowling from Taylor, who took three wickets in six balls. Laxman stood firm, carving out a workmanlike hundred, and the last five wickets added 203. With Collins suffering from cramp and the other fast men having expended considerable energy on what was probably the hottest day of the series, Lara opted for caution and batted again. It was a sensible move, as West Indies could not risk any further injuries with the final Test following close behind. The batsmen did their bit to force the issue. Ganga passed fifty for the second time, and helped push the lead to 391, giving the bowlers 88 overs to do their stuff. But with the pitch still playing easily, it was India who ended up closer to victory. Sehwag propelled them to 109 at lunch, before Dravid and Laxman consolidated with a hundred partnership. Dhoni entered with 149 needed from 25 overs with seven wickets left, and clattered his first ball, from Collins, for a huge six over long-off, raising visions of a stunning win. Only once - when England staged a smash-and-grab at Sydney in 1894-95 - had a side lost after making more than 580 in the first innings. West Indies moved guards into position, and defended the vaults.

Man of the Match: D. Ganga.

© John Wisden & Co.