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June 6, 2006
The last day of Test cricket at the Antigua Recreation Ground produced an absolute thriller, as India made a spirited charge towards a famous win, but were denied by Fidel Edwards - who batted 36 balls with Daren Ganga as his runner - and Corey Collymore. Needing to survive 19 balls to save the Test, the two of them saw off Anil Kumble and Sreesanth under mounting tension to ensure that the two teams are level at 0-0 in the four-Test series.
There were several stories to tell from the final day: Chris Gayle played an innings unlike any he has played in the past, plodding 188 balls for 69, Shivnarine Chanderpaul made a gloriously fluent 62, the Indian bowlers bowled their hearts out, but in the end it all came down to the last over, which Rahul Dravid entrusted to Sreesanth: he tried all the tricks in the trade, the short balls, the yorker, the length balls, but Collymore kept them all out, and when he padded up to one which was well outside off, the entire crowd erupted. West Indies had averted defeat.
None of the heart-stopping action that unfolded in the final session seemed likely when the teams went into the tea break. West Indies had progressed to 158 for 3, after Gayle and Chanderpaul had batted through the entire session. With only 38 overs left, and the Indians appearing deflated, it looked like the last Test in this ground would end as several earlier ones had.
The drama, though, started right after the break, and the catalyst was Anil Kumble. He didn't bowl at his best, slipping in too many short deliveries wide of the stumps, but he found the mark with a straight one that Gayle took on the pads and was adjudged lbw. The Indian spirits, which had been flagging during the Gayle-Chanderpaul partnership, suddenly got a lift, and the West Indian slide started. Chanderpaul became Kumble's third victim, but he was clearly also a victim of an umpiring error, given out caught at slip when the ball only went off his pads.
Dwayne Bravo came out and handled the pressure as he has throughout this series: with utter confidence. He cut, drove, and flicked his way to 28, before Virender Sehwag did him in for the second time in the match. In the first innings, Bravo had been defeated by exaggerated turn and bounce; this time he was beaten by the lack of turn, as Sehwag got one to drift, straighten, and take the outside edge. When Denesh Ramdin succumbed in Sehwag's next over, West Indies had suddenly lost four wickets in just over 15 overs, and the game had swung India's way quite decisively: there were still 20.5 overs to go, and West Indies only had three wickets in hand.
Mohammed and Ian Bradshaw then provided another of several twists to the tale, surviving ten overs. Mohammed lived dangerously, going for his strokes at every opportunity, and playing and missing often enough to give the Indians hope. It was getting desperate for India again, and Munaf Patel provided the answer, courtesy umpire Asad Rauf, who ruled Bradshaw caught behind when his bat had only brushed pad. The equation: 10.4 overs left, two wickets in hand. Kumble was pressed back into service, and though he answered with the wicket of Mohammed a little after Mahendra Singh Dhoni had muffed up a stumping chance, West Indies still had enough in the tank to hold on.
After the first two sessions, though, it appeared as if West Indies would save the Test fairly comfortably. Ganga made an assured 35, adding 67 for the opening wicket, and then Chanderpaul and Gayle put together 99 for the fourth, lifting the innings out of a mini crisis and handling both pace and spin with aplomb.
Gayle's innings was completely out of character, but it answered the call for an anchor to bind the innings together. In the first innings he had blasted the bowlers to all parts, but here he was strangely becalmed, defending and letting deliveries go which he had hammered to the fence in the first innings. At one stage he had 4 from 44 deliveries, and though his scoring rate increased thereafter, he was intent on defence almost throughout.
The most sparkling innings of the day came from Chanderpaul, the batsman who might have been expected to play the role that Gayle did. He got a reprieve on nought, edging a drive to Wasim Jaffer, who put down a tough chance at third slip, but apart from that, he was completely in control. Timing the ball exquisitely through the covers, he repeatedly leant into his drives and caressed the ball for fours - seven of his ten hits to the fence came in that region, all of them struck quite magnificently.
The Indian had bowlers struck a brief purple patch in the 25-minute period before lunch, nailing three wickets - Ganga edged to short leg, Sarwan drove loosely, and Brian Lara was trapped on the shuffle - but for most of the first two hours, the attack was handled fairly comfortably. Sreesanth bowled with far greater control than in the first innings, but Munaf had plenty of problems: he was warned officially for running on the pitch, and that forced him to operate from much wider of the wicket, significantly reducing his potency. Kumble bowled with plenty of heart on a pitch not offering him much assistance.
In the end the result was one which has been familiar on this ground, but the manner in which it was achieved will ensure that it will go down among the most memorable games played here. The Antigua Recreation Ground got the farewell it deserved.
Daren Ganga c Yuvraj b Kumble 35 (67 for 1)
Inside edge and a sharp catch taken at short leg
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Kumble b Sreesanth 1 (68 for 2)
Slapped a loose drive to point
Brian Lara lbw b Sreesanth 0 (72 for 3)
Shuffled across to one which pitched on middle and leg, and trapped plumb in front
Chris Gayle lbw b Kumble 69 (171 for 4)
Lunged forward with bat tucked behind pad, struck in front of middle and off
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Dravid b Kumble 62 (202 for 5)
Caught at slip off the pad; unlucky to be given out
Dwayne Bravo c Dhoni b Sehwag 28 (220 for 6)
Beaten by drift and lack of turn, and feathered a nick
Denesh Ramdin c Dravid b Sehwag 8 (226 for 7)
Cut a ball too close to the body, edge well held at slip
Ian Bradshaw c Dhoni b Munaf 10 (277 for 8)
Given out caught behind when the bat hit his pad
Dave Mohammed b Kumble 52 (297 for 9)
Played all over a full-length ball
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Plays of the Day from the first ODI between South Africa and India in Johannesburg