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June 2, 2006
The West Indian resurgence which had started in the one-day series continued on the opening day of the first Test, as they restricted India to 235 for 9 in Antigua. Rahul Dravid won the toss, chose to bat, and then battled hard for a painstaking 49, but the rest of the batsmen fell to a combination of accurate seam and swing bowling and their own lack of confidence as West Indies finished the first day completely on top.
Antigua has traditionally been a nightmare for the bowlers, but conditions at St John's were far more even today - there was some seam movement and swing on offer throughout, and though the track lacked pace, there was enough bounce, sometimes inconsistent, to keep the bowlers in the game till stumps. The West Indian bowlers exploited the conditions superbly, consistently bowling in the channel outside off and forcing the batsmen to go after the ball.
The two stars among the crop of bowlers were Dwayne Bravo and Corey Collymore. Bravo had been the talismanic figure for West Indies in the one-day series, and he returned to haunt the Indians with his gentle outswingers, picking up a rich haul of 4 for 37. He teased the batsmen with a line just outside off, forcing them to reach out to play their strokes, and reaped the rewards as the Indians took the bait and perished. Collymore had been relegated to third-seamer status, but made an impact as soon as he was brought into the attack, removing Virender Sehwag with his first ball. He extracted bounce and movement throughout the day, and thoroughly deserved his three wickets.
For the Indians, it was another entirely forgettable batting display on a tour in which they have struggled to unravel the mystery of scoring runs in the West Indies. Apart from Wasim Jaffer, their top five all topped 20 but none of them managed a half-century. Six of the first seven dismissals were to catches behind the stumps, an indication of just how well West Indies' outside-off-stump strategy worked.
The strangulation started after Sehwag was sent on his way for a run-a-ball 36. Sehwag played a typically breezy knock, offering the bowlers a chance with a couple of streaky strokes but also injecting early momentum into the innings after Jaffer had fallen an early victim to Fidel Edwards. The first 50 of the innings came in just ten overs, but once Sehwag left, the run-flow reduced to a trickle.
VVS Laxman, promoted to No.3 in the line-up, was secure in his 74-ball knock, letting plenty of deliveries go outside off, and even unfurling a gorgeous square-drive off Ian Bradshaw - easily the least impressive of the bowlers - to suggest that he was coming to terms with the pitch, before throwing away the good work with a loose stroke just before lunch.
Yuvraj Singh was reprieved once by umpire Asad Rauf, who turned down an lbw appeal which should have been given, and by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who dropped a sitter in the slips, but he capitalised on neither chance and was completely flummoxed - for the second time on this tour - by Dave Mohammed.
The only batsman who showed a willingness to battle the conditions and the bowlers was, not surprisingly, Dravid. Unperturbed by the long runless periods, he knuckled down, playing out dot ball after dot ball, letting deliveries go by outside off, relying on nudges and nurdles to get his runs, and putting away only four balls to the fence. It was a show of immense patience, but even he fell a victim to the outside-off malaise, nibbling one to Lara just one short of 50. Replays showed that Collymore was lucky to get that wicket, though, for he had clearly overstepped by about six centimetres.
Apart from Sehwag, the only other batsman who tried to force the pace was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but for him too, success was brief - 19 runs off 27 balls, and then a waft and an edge to give Lara his 150th Test catch.
Anil Kumble and Sreesanth held up the West Indian charge with a 47-run eighth-wicket stand - Sreesanth showed more than once that he could develop into a useful lower-order batsman, playing a couple of glorious back-foot punches and defending with a straight bat - but the second new ball broke the partnership. A missed chance in the deep by Mohammed meant that the innings wasn't quite over, but a total of 235 for 9 should leave no-one in doubt about which team took the honours.
Wasim Jaffer c Ramdin b Edwards 1 (10 for 1)
Nicked a short one in the corridor
Virender Sehwag c Lara b Collymore 36 (51 for 2)
Poked at a delivery that pitched and seamed away; edged to second slip
VVS Laxman c Ramdin b Bravo 29 (72 for 3)
Edged an expansive drive outside off
Yuvraj Singh b Mohammed 23 (126 for 4)
Misjudged the length and played across the line to one that pitched on off and hastened
Mohammad Kaif c Ramdin b Bravo 13 (155 for 5)
Inside-edged a drive as the ball straightened after swinging away a touch
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Lara b Collymore 19 (179 for 6)
Edged a drive off a full-length ball to second slip
Rahul Dravid c Lara b Collymore 49 (180 for 7)
Poked at a short, awaygoing delivery; regulation catch to second slip
Anil Kumble b Bravo 21 (227 for 8)
Defended a short ball back on to his stumps
VRV Singh c Sarwan b Bravo 2 (231 for 9)
Hopeless hoick, and an easy catch to extra-cover
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