Jaffer's ARG affair
When you've scored 86 on your previous visit here, when you've enjoyed Viv Richards's autobiography, large sections of which vividly describe the Antiguan landscape, and when you've snapped up your only two first-class wickets at the Antigua Recreation Ground, there's little doubt that you may want to go back there. Antigua must surely hold a special place for Wasim Jaffer.
Jaffer arrived here having recently undergone surgery on his right shin. Only a week's practice had been possible; late nights were spent watching India stutter through the one-day series. On the last tour, the bowlers had tried to trap him with wide deliveries outside off stump, luring him into flashing airily to the backward-point region. He knew he had to be prepared for new surprises - "I've never faced any of these bowlers before, so until I get out there I won't know what to expect. What I know is that I need to be patient. Run-scoring will not be easy."
It's quite strange to hear those words from Jaffer, one who regularly makes batting look absurdly easy. Yet, his penchant for getting out when set, belying his domestic stature as someone who regularly amasses big ones, was a cause for concern. In the warm-up game against Antigua, he'd cruised to 52, displaying a quite joyous freedom, till he was, anti-climactically, run-out. "Converting the 50s, 60s into big hundreds is something I want to learn to do," he said ahead of the first Test, "and hopefully I will get it right this time."
On the first morning, he didn't even get a start, lasting only ten minutes before edging a pacy Fidel Edwards delivery that shaped away. Luckily for him, he didn't have much of Edwards to face today, after he hobbled off with a hamstring injury in the 11th over of the innings. "Fidel Edwards was their frontline bowler and he was the one bowling fast at that time," he said at the end of the day. "It was unlucky for him to get injured but we benefited." Yet, he edged today as well, quite a number of times, but a combination of loose hands and favourable slip-cordon configurations helped him survive. In the sixth over, he edged Ian Bradshaw all along the ground to the third-man region; one ball later he edged him in the air, wide of third slip. In the 15th over, he survived a close lbw appeal against Corey Collymore, with replays suggesting that the ball might have missed leg stump; ten overs later he edged again, this time between second slip and gully.
Amid all this uncertainty, though, there was some gorgeous strokeplay. He wasn't finding his timing all the time, yet the assurance with which he got his front foot forward and knelt into the drive showed that he was in the mood. Fifty came up with a superb cover-drive and he went to tea with a silken flick to midwicket, off Dave Mohammed. It was executed with such tenderness, yet could have easily dented any bowler's confidence.
Post tea, he milked his way to the 80s before entering a danger zone. In 38 balls, he managed only four runs, mis-timing a few drives and appearing increasingly edgy. Two whipped twos through midwicket took him to 92; four singles nudged him to 96; and he was nearly run-out four short of a hundred, going for an ambitious third run. Two balls later, all uncertainty was laid to rest, as he stripped his cloak of inhibition, knelt on one knee and drove. It was classical, it was emphatic, it sped to the point fence, and it heralded a memorable hundred. "It was really satisfying when we were 130 runs behind, when we had a chance to win or draw. To get a hundred in the second innings is always special."
Jaffer added that a score of 275 to 300 would be enough in the second innings, adding that Anil Kumble would always be a dangerous proposition. "The wicket has got much easier but there's always pressure in the final innings. [Virender] Sehwag got a couple of wickets in the first innings, so Kumble can make the difference."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo