Jaffer leads solid Indian response
After being outplayed thoroughly over the first two days, the Indians fought back magnificently on the third to recover all the lost ground. First, their bowlers ensured that West Indies didn't run away with a huge first-innings advantage, restricting them to 371, and then the batsmen built on that, thanks largely to Wasim Jaffer's workmanlike unbeaten 113, as they finished on 215 for 2, an overall lead of 85.
In the first innings the Indian batting had crumbled against a disciplined attack on a pitch offering a fair amount of assistance, and while the bowling was still fairly disciplined today, the significant difference was the lack of help from the surface. Resembling a typical Antigua track much more than it had on the two earlier days, the strip offered the bowlers little by way of pace, the bounce was more consistent, and most importantly, there was none of the seam and swing movement which had bothered the Indians so much in their first innings. To make matters worse for Brian Lara, he was without Fidel Edwards, his main strike bowler, for much of the innings - Edwards retired with a hamstring problem after bowling 5.4 fiery overs. The rest of the attack bowled at strictly medium pace or lower, and it was much easier for the batsmen to see them off.
With a deficit of 130 staring them in the face, the Indians still needed an innings of character, and Jaffer provided that. In his third coming as a Test opener, Jaffer eschewed the extravagant and played the percentages well. Early on he left deliveries outside off, waiting for the ball on his legs to flick away for runs. Unlike a typical Jaffer innings, which is laden with boundaries, this one only had 12 hits to the fence. He still showed the technical flaws which have restricted him to only 11 Tests in six years: he played and missed a few times to deliveries outside off, edged a couple of streaky fours through the slips, and mistimed his shots on the off side often enough in the first half of his innings to keep the bowlers interested. However, as his innings wore on, the confidence grew, and he unfurled some superb drives on both sides of the wicket, none better than the square-drive off Ian Bradshaw that brought up his century.
Jaffer's knock was also the first fifty-plus score by an Indian in this Test. A couple of other batsmen got starts in this innings, but threw it away. Virender Sehwag's 41 injected early momentum, and he was also at the receiving end of a brief but superb spell of short-pitched bowling by Edwards, who had a leg slip and a short leg in place, and repeatedly bowled at Sehwag's body. Looking distinctly uncomfortable, Sehwag jumped up to fend on a couple of occasions and nearly gloved catches to Ramnaresh Sarwan at that position. Unfortunately for West Indies, Edwards pulled a hamstring muscle and had to limp off.
VVS Laxman looked in fine touch and stroked sublime boundaries en route to 31 before throwing it away with a shockingly senseless hoick. Dravid, though, played a typically resolute innings to ensure that India were only two down at close of play.
The batsmen built on the gains that the bowlers had provided them in the morning, as they took the four remaining West Indian wickets in just over 16 overs. The morning session was an especially rewarding one for VRV Singh, who was more focussed than yesterday and nailed his first two wickets in Test cricket. Munaf Patel and Anil Kumble shared the two other wickets, while Bradshaw and Dave Mohammed ensured that West Indies still added a few to their overnight score.
Dravid opted for the new ball first thing in the morning, and Munaf was immediately impressive, bowling in the channel and eventually forcing Denesh Ramdin to nick to the wicketkeeper. At the end, though, Sreesanth continued to struggle, losing his run-up, bowling from well within the crease, and spraying it wide outside off and leg. Bradshaw took full toll of the width on offer, repeatedly creaming drives through the off side for fours, but Singh pulled it back with a couple of well-directed short balls which accounted for the tail. West Indies lost their last three wickets for 12, and by close of play they had seen much of their early advantage slip away.
Denesh Ramdin c Dhoni b Munaf 26 (331 for 7)
Nicked one in the corridor
Ian Bradshaw c Yuvraj b VRV Singh 33 (359 for 8)
Good short ball took the shoulder of the bat and lobbed to point
Fidel Edwards c Dhoni b VRV Singh 4 (370 for 9)
Gloved a bouncer aimed at the face
Corey Collymore lbw b Kumble 0 (371 all out)
Trapped plumb in front by a straight one
Virender Sehwag c Gayle b Collymore 41 (72 for 1)
Edged an attempted drive, held on after an initial fumble at first slip
VVS Laxman c Bradshaw b Mohammed 31 (147 for 2)
Hopeless slog against the turn, top-edge to mid-on
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S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo