Blame it on Bravo
If his email address is any indication, Dwayne Bravo is without doubt the next big thing in West Indies cricket. West Indians are pretty much reconciled to the fact that Brian Lara, or the "big dog", is on his final lap but, refreshingly, with every passing day, they are realising the worth of the "new big dog" - Bravo.
Growing up in Santa Cruz in Port of Spain, Bravo didn't need to look too far for a hero. Staying a few streets away was Lara, already dazzling the world with his wizardry. He began as a batsman who could bowl a bit but has gradually converted himself into a batsman who can perform the role of a main bowler. As if that's not enough, he's arguably the best fielder in world cricket with regard to ground fielding at least, and lifts the team morale with his light-hearted banter in the dressing-room.
For the last two weeks, he's haunted the Indians. Haunted them with yorkers, slower balls and even slower balls; haunted them with his acrobatic fielding at point; and with his assertive strokeplay. In his last three innings against them, he's managed three fifties. On the first day in Antigua, he had the best bowling figures. It won't come as a surprise if he keeps wicket in the next match and snaps up a record number of dismissals. He's in that sort of a zone.
Today, he came in with West Indies still 59 runs adrift of India's total, with Anil Kumble just having gotten rid of Ramnaresh Sarwan with the first ball after tea. At the other end, Shivnarine Chanderpaul had inched to 10 off 36 balls. This was India's chance to apply the brakes and winkle out one or two more. Bravo quietly reached double figures, off 14 balls, before Sreesanth, having already conceded 60 of his first nine overs, returned. The first ball was full and on the pads, the fourth was short and wide of off stump. Both were duly thumped for fours. Kumble's next over produced two more fours; Sreesanth's fourth over of the spell went for 12. In 45 balls, he'd moved from 10 to 50. The Indians could only watch exasperated. The lead was gone, the match threatened to go with it.
India might rue their selection of bowlers. Leaving out your most experienced new-ball bowler and premier offspinner might appear to be an attacking move; yet it appears a bit bizarre when you see how the rest performed. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel were playing in just their third Tests while VRV Singh was on debut. It came as no surprise when two out of the three had a bad day; what was surprising was that all three were playing together. When Virender Sehwag bowls 12 overs and manages turn, bounce and two wickets, you know that Harbhajan Singh could have been vital. Horses for courses is a valid theory, yet India might be better off having their best horses in the middle, irrespective of the courses.
Everytime India threatened to get a grip, West Indies found a batsman to take it away. When Munaf removed Ganga early, Gayle decided to go bananas; when Gayle and Lara departed in quick succession, Sarwan punched them out of trouble; when Sarwan got out first ball after tea, Bravo re-established their advantage. When Sehwag managed two wickets at the end, Denesh Ramdin and Ian Bradshaw consolidated. India were always playing catch up, not exactly advisable on the second day of a Test series. Now if only they could modify the rules and get Kumble to bowl from both ends.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo