Lara helps Windies cling on to a draw
Brian Lara scored his second Test century against India, his second slowest innings ever for a score of 50 or more, and though it was not typically brilliant and free-flowing, it was an innings that typified his character and showed just how good a batsman he is under any circumstance. He gave up the big drive for failsafe defence, blunted rather than bludgeoned the bowling into submission and ensured that West Indies pulled off a rousing draw as the tail hung on at the death. They finished on 293 for 7, and garnered a result that they can well be proud of.
Lara's acumen was apparent early on when he decided to bat more than a foot out of his crease to the fast bowlers. This not only cut out any swing that the bowlers might be able to get, but also ensured that the umpires could barely consider giving an lbw decision in the favour of the bowler. What's more, the bowlers were forced to alter the length they operated on, and this meant that it was Lara who controlled the proceedings.
But if Lara was the epitome of control, some of his less illustrious colleagues were quite the opposite. Daren Ganga failed to pick a googly and shouldered arms, losing his off stump. Then Munaf Patel, bowling a superb line and length, pitched one up for the drive and got it to deviate just enough to take the outside edge of Ramnaresh Sarwan's bat. Sarwan, who faced 10 nervous balls including two close lbw shouts, made just 1, completing a forgettable match where he picked up a first-ball duck in the first innings. At 52 for 3 West Indies were in deep trouble, when Lara was joined by Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Lara looked far from his best, on at least two occasions attempting to play forcing drives through the off side but only managing an inside edge past his stumps, but was skilful enough to tough it out and bring up his half-century. Just occasionally, though, the Lara magic was there for all to see - a couple of crunching cover-drives left fielders dead in their tracks, but those were exceptions in an innings characterised by watchful defence. Chanderpaul, who has been a thorn in India's flesh on so many occasions in the past, placed a high premium on his wicket, batting with good sense and care.
About an hour into the second session India finally separated Lara and Chanderpaul. The two had added 129 and were together for almost three hours, seeing off 43.4 overs. Ironically it was a rank bad ball that did the trick. Anil Kumble, who had doggedly run in over after over, sent down a full-toss outside the off stump and Chanderpaul's eyes lit up. He attempted to smash the ball over midwicket but only managed a mis-hit that Irfan Pathan caught well at wide mid-on. Chanderpaul had made 54, and Dwayne Bravo walked out to join Lara.
But Lara had made his mind up about what he wanted to do, and his powers of concentration in playing long innings are second to none in world cricket. India's bowlers did their best to mix things up but there was simply no beating Lara's broad bat. When the final session began, with Lara past a 100 it seemed as though he had done enough to seal the fate of this Test. But, in a late twist, Sehwag got a ball to drift in and pitch on off, and went past Lara's sweeping bat and struck pad. Asad Rauf, the umpire, upheld an impassioned appeal and suddenly India were back in the game.
Bravo had got his eye in and despite the fall of Lara's wicket batted with authority and even a touch of panache. His down-the-wicket six over long off against Kumble was a bold stroke, coming as it did, so late in the day, when West Indies were desperately trying to hang on for a draw. But with only 10 overs left in the day Kumble struck, having Bravo caught off his pad by Yuvraj Singh at backward short-leg. Bravo's 47 had ensured that the tail was left with only nine overs to survive.
Kumble (42 overs) and Sehwag (30 overs) came in and despite weary arms and shoulders, made Denesh Ramdin and Ian Bradshaw play virtually every ball. There were plenty of shouts for lbws and close catches, and the umpires were tested as much as the batsmen, but in the end, India were left high and dry. The ball was tossed to Patel who bowled a probing over to Ramdin, and induced an outside edge only to see Dravid spill a catch that should have been taken. With barely five minutes left in the day Patel had his man, trapping Bradshaw in front of the stumps.
If the rain that washed out the fourth day began the West Indian revival in this match, it was a Lara special that sealed the deal.
Daren Ganga lbw b Kumble 26 (51 for 2)
Shouldered arms to a googly and lost off stump
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Dhoni b Patel 1 (32 for 3)
Feathered a nick to the keeper to a ball that cut away a touch
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Pathan b Kumble 54 (181 for 4)
Mis-hit a fulltoss to wide mid-on
Brian Lara lbw b Sehwag 120 (252 for 5)
Swept and missed but a touch unlucky to be given out lbw
Dwayne Bravo c Yuvraj b Kumble 47 (277 for 6)
Inside edge onto pad towards backward short-leg
Ian Bradshaw lbw b Patel 1 (291 for 7)
Played back and missed a straight one
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo