1st Test

India v West Indies in India, 2011-12

At Delhi, November 6-9, 2011. India won by five wickets. Toss: West Indies. Test debuts: R. Ashwin, U. T. Yadav.


Sachin Tendulkar congratulates R Ashwin on his 6 for 47, India v West Indies, 1st Test, New Delhi, 3rd day, November 8, 2011
R Ashwin was awarded man of the match for his nine-wicket haul on debut © AFP
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After the thrashing they had suffered in England, this was supposed to be the start of a new era for Indian cricket. But while both batsmen and bowlers had failed repeatedly on that trip, the ageing batting line-up was barely touched, as Yuvraj Singh returned in place of Suresh Raina. Harbhajan Singh, meanwhile, the highest wicket-taker in contemporary international cricket and fit again after missing the last two Tests in England with an abdominal strain, was ignored. In came Ravichandran Ashwin, whose route to the big time encompassed the IPL and a variation known as the carrom ball, to make his debut as the premier off-spinner. There was also a first cap for Umesh Yadav, a strapping fast bowler from unfashionable Vidarbha, and a recall for slow left-armer Ojha, nearly a year after his previous Test appearance.

West Indies were playing in Delhi for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century. Back in November 1987, they had hunted down 276 to win - still the highest successful fourth-innings run-chase by any visiting team in India. Times had changed, though, and now it was India who finished with 276 in the final innings and a five-wicket victory under their belts. It was their first victory for seven matches, but the 11th in 20 home Tests since the start of 2008.

Compared to that starlit 1987-88 team, these tourists had only one batsman with much five-day experience. But Chanderpaul again demonstrated his liking for Indian bowling - by the end of the series his Test average against them was more than 65 - by anchoring a solid batting effort on the opening day. The 18-year-old opener Brathwaite batted more than two sessions for a painstaking 63, but Chanderpaul was anything but stodgy as he picked off pace and spin alike. He drove beautifully and at times played the ball impossibly late, leaving the Indians to rely on Ojha, who finished with his first Test five-for, to stay abreast. Not long before the close Chanderpaul completed his 24th Test century, and his seventh against India. Dhoni passed Syed Kirmani's record of 198 dismissals by an Indian wicketkeeper with his smart stumping of Brathwaite, and later claimed his 200th victim when he caught Samuels.

The game changed the following morning, after the impressive Sharma trapped Chanderpaul in front. The rest succumbed to spin, and 269 for five turned into 304 all out. India started as though they meant to take the lead by stumps, with Sehwag and Gambhir clattering 89 from 12.3 overs. But once West Indies got lucky - Sammy fingertipped a Sehwag drive into the stumps with Gambhir out of his ground - they made full use of it. Dravid batted with the authority he had shown in England, but the rest of the middle order subsided in the face of bowling that was accurate rather than threatening.

Dravid was eventually ninth out for a three-hour 54 and, with the pitch becoming slower, there were some glum faces in the stands as West Indies' openers walked back out 95 to the good. But the fragility that has hampered their batting in recent years was soon on view again: Dhoni gave the new ball to the spinners, and two quick wickets went down, making 17 in all on the second day.

The collapse continued next morning, and West Indies were soon 63 for six. Chanderpaul was yet again the main hope. He matched watchfulness and aggression in his 47, but support was limited. Sammy thrashed a stroke-filled 42 to help lift the total to 180 - but India's eventual target was still not as imposing as it might have been, especially as subcontinental pitches are no longer the square turners of old. The openers provided another solid start - Sehwag thumped his second half-century of the match to seize the initiative - but it was left to the maligned middle order to take India home, with the West Indian bowling lacking the nous to cause serious problems.

Tendulkar ended the third day with 33, which took him past 15,000 runs in his 182nd Test, so a sizeable crowd turned up the following morning in the hope of witnessing his elusive century of centuries. At first, they were treated to a fiery spell from Fidel Edwards, who uprooted Dravid's off and middle stumps, and discomfited the other batsmen too. Tendulkar was largely untroubled on his way to 76, but then played all around a Bishoo delivery that didn't turn. The sepulchral silence that followed was eventually broken only by the applause that accompanied the winning runs.

Ashwin bowled 48.3 overs in all, claiming the match award after finishing with nine for 128, the best debut figures for India after Narendra Hirwani's 16 for 136 against West Indies at Madras in 1987-88. It was a steady performance that justified the decision of the selection panel - which included Hirwani - to move on. On the debit side there were a few glimpses of the batting woes that had plagued India's tour of England but, with West Indies even more brittle, they were largely overlooked.

Man of the Match: R. Ashwin.

© John Wisden & Co.