Antigua reveals its familiar colours
So we're in Antigua after all. After three days where the pitch offered varying degrees of help for the bowlers - going from lively to sporting - it gradually fell asleep on the fourth as the batsmen came to life. Wasim Jaffer pitched his tent on it while his team-mates made amends for their first-innings sloppiness. It's been three weeks since they landed in these isles, but India finally stumbled upon a day when they dominated West Indies, whichever way you looked at it.
Jaffer will remember this day for long, one where he shed his inhibitions and rode into the history books. More than 35 years earlier, another opener from Bombay, a certain Sunil Gavaskar, had produced a second-innings double-hundred in the West Indies and he would have surely applauded the correct manner in which Jaffer approached his knock. The best part about it was that he mostly tried to play with a straight bat, getting to the pitch and driving fluently. He might have made only 42 of his runs in the V but that doesn't tell you how many times he negotiated the difficult balls and drove them straight to the fielders at mid-off and mid-on.
Jaffer's appetite for big scores has never been in doubt. His maiden ton, in fact, was a mammoth 314 not out in only his second first-class match and the fact that he has ten 150-plus scores in domestic cricket must tell you something. He could have been out on his overnight score of 113 - he edged Dwayne Bravo to the right of Chris Gayle at first slip in just the second over of the day - but the fates were smiling on him. Jaffer reciprocated with cover-drives straight out of the VVS Laxman manual, cajoling, rather than forcing, the ball to the fence.
The fact that the pitch decided to snooze off helped. West Indies' bowlers, who were a serious threat on the first day, were flattened. Bravo missed out on a hundred, this time with the ball, but Dave Mohammed conceded a magnificent 162 in his 29.5 overs. The heart-rending blows came in the last spell - he conceded 64 in 7.5 overs - as Mahendra Singh Dhoni swung his axe at various angles. Of Dhoni's six sixes, three came in the final over of the innings, off consecutive balls, and it was only because of Rahul Dravid's declaration that further damage was prevented.
Of all the bowlers, Ian Bradshaw - probably taking inspiration from the powered dancing robot on the roof of the Andy Roberts Stand - stood out. He appeared to take the term 'military medium' very seriously. As if atoning for his poor show in the first innings, he ran in for a staggering 25 overs non-stop, and plugged one end superbly. From mid-way through the first session - taking the new ball just after the drinks break - until the middle of the final session, he chugged along. He had eight maidens, 47 runs and one wicket to show, but, more vitally, he probably played a big part in delaying India's declaration. Bennett King summed it up well: "The longer he bowled the better he got. I thought he could take a wicket at any time. It was a pretty heroic effort from him."
Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif were able to squeeze out only nine runs in the seven overs immediately after tea, a passage of play that India might reflect on if they fail to get a victory tomorrow. What would have heartened India was a few balls that kept low, and Jaffer said that the pitch had behaved "up and down" on a few occasions. It's tough to predict the amount of spin that will be on offer as neither Mohammed nor Gayle turned the ball that much, and as King said after the day, neither does Anil Kumble. Also, West Indies have chased a bigger total on this very ground - the record-breaking 418 against Australia - and a fiery start could see the game proceed either way.
Yet, the puffy areas around the good-length spot, and the mere pressure of batting in the final innings put India as firm favourites to wrap up a rare triumph in the Caribbean. Be prepared for a tense finish; also be prepared for Kumble to upstage Bradshaw in the number of overs bowled on the trot.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo