Living on the edge
At the stroke of lunch, there were suggestions from the stands that Keith Fredrick, the curator at the Antigua Recreation Ground, had spiked the pitch with a sprinkling of Cavalier rum. At the end of the day, though, after India ended on a jittery 235 for 9, they would probably reflect more on their cavalier strokeplay, having squandered a chance to stamp their authority on the series.
It was West Indies' day from the word go. They lost the toss but Brian Lara revealed that he would have fielded anyway. They watched batsman after batsman get his eye in but managed to remove all before any serious damage was inflicted. Corey Collymore and Dwayne Bravo tormented with their diligence - one cut it at will, the other kept popping up with a wicket-taking delivery.
The day began with India choosing a three-pronged pace attack with a combined experience of four Tests, thereby leaving out a bowler who had claimed a hat-trick just four Tests back. At the end of the day, Ravi Sawant, the team manager, stated that Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh were "rested", and not dropped. It implied that India were following a rotation policy in Tests as well. Whether adopting it in the first Test of a crucial series was shrewd or plain daft remains to be seen.
Some corporate might rue on having a logo on the outside edge of the bats; India's batsmen kept using it to get out. Six batsmen were caught behind the wicket off the outside edge, one was dropped, one was dismissed when the ball found the inside edge and deflected onto the stumps, the other offered a catch of a top edge. Only Yuvraj Singh stood out - choosing to get bowled instead of following the herd. Poor Lara and Denesh Ramdin had not a moment to relax with such furious edging. Shivnarine Chanderpaul tried and ended up dropping a dolly.
Yet, edges don't just arrive; they need bowlers like Collymore to find them. Until he came on to bowl, Virender Sehwag was acting as if this was the sixth game of the one-day series. The first four balls he faced produced ten; in the fifth over of the game he unleashed three brutal fours. India's fifty came up in the tenth over. A century before drinks was well on the cards.
Enter Collymore, Sehwag unsure whether to go forward or back, pushed hard, edged and was taken. He'd snapped up a wicket off his very first ball, and went on to produce cutter after cutter through the day. Added to that was his economy - nine runs off his first six overs, six off his next five, and 12 off his last six. For company he had Bravo, who showed that his 6 for 55 against Australia was no fluke. Twenty overs, nine maidens and four wickets sums up the stranglehold he established. Bowling a teasing line just outside off, and shaping the ball away, he lured the batsmen into trying something silly. Being a batsman, he would know - it's tough to restrain yourself when offered the bait.
Dravid felt the full effect of the Bravo-Collymore combine. He reached 48 off 151 balls, swimming against the tide and actually knuckling down to play a grafting knock. Until then, he'd waited for the loose ball - which Ian Bradshaw and Dave Mohammed obliged with occasionally - and managed to keep the scoreboard ticking along. Yet, for the next 21 balls he was put in a cage, not getting even an inch to manoeuvre. Off his 173rd ball, he committed an error, helping a Collymore away-cutter straight into Lara's hands at second slip. Unfortunately for him, Simon Taufel committed an error himself, failing to spot Collymore over-stepping by nearly six centimetres.
It took some carefree hitting from Anil Kumble and Sreesanth to take India to 235 and Lara felt it was 35 runs too many - "It's a 200 wicket". Whether that was practical analysis or plain kiddology will be known tomorrow. West Indies, though, hold the aces; India need to show that they have the bowling firepower to make amends for their atrocious batting.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo