India reply strongly to Windies 581
India responded with promising enterprise to an inexplicably indifferent West Indian batting performance on the third day, replying to 581 with 150 for 2 at stumps. Inclement weather and an insipid pitch had done their bit in prodding the Test towards a draw but the final blow was dealt by Brian Lara and his men when they chose to bat as though they were fighting for survival on a fifth-day minefield. In actuality, they were well placed and had all the faculties to show some positive intent, but instead the game, as a contest, was killed.
If you only read the scorecard you might think it unkind to be critical of West Indies for their approach. But, after beginning on 420 for 5, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels well set and easily able to score 96 runs off the first 23 overs bowled in the day, it was impossible to assign reasons for the manner in which they saw off the next 14 overs for just 20 runs, as lunch came on.
Harbhajan Singh, who was brutalised by Chris Gayle, sent down six overs for just three runs in this period. There was plenty of verbal jousting on the field, as Harbhajan sent down one wide-ish delivery after another, watched Chanderpaul refuse to take the bait, and then mock applauded when a single was taken. It might have seemed like a bit of good-natured fun to some of the players, but the manner in which both teams - West Indies in the most, and India to some extent - refused to force the pace, left a bad taste in the mouth. Why Rahul Dravid did not bring the field in to cut the single when Chanderpaul was batting - so obviously with one eye to his hundred, and perhaps the declaration depended on this - is a question worth asking. Equally, it was mystifying to see Anil Kumble operate so much from the end Brian Jerling was officiating when it was amply clear that he would not uphold even the most genuine appeal for lbw.
While all this was unfolding, Chanderpaul and Samuels helped themselves to half-centuries. There wasn't much of a contest in the popularity stakes here. Samuels was commanding, authoritative and full of verve when he chose to be while Chanderpaul was at his crabby best - incredibly efficient at keeping the ball out, judiciously forthcoming when the loose ball came along, and unapologetically restrained when the ball did not demand a stroke. When lunch was taken, West Indies had added 116 runs from 37 overs, not what you expect from a team that is trying to force the pace.
Soon after lunch - the halfway mark in the Test in terms of time - there was a change in approach and Samuels clattered Harbhajan for a rocket of a flat six back over his head and followed it up with a sweet strike over long-on. Energised by this effort, Chanderpaul made it three big ones in the over, timing one over extra-cover. But it was not to last long as Samuels, who had made 87, holed out to Harbhajan at midwicket against a Virender Sehwag offbreak.
With Samuels gone there was little to look forward to in the innings but Chanderpaul's hundred, and as is so often the case, this was the one thing that eluded. When Chanderpaul had the chance to force the pace - in the first session and the start of the second - he failed to, and suddenly it was too late. Denesh Ramdin, looking to up the scoring rate, found square-leg. The West Indian tail then did what it does best, surrendering abjectly to a spinner they could not pick. To Harbhajan's delight a terrible innings' returns were transformed into a respectable - if barely earned - five-wicket haul. West Indies were all out for 581, Chanderpaul was unbeaten on 97, visibly disappointed but with no-one to blame but himself, and India were left with 51 overs to play.
And play they did. Sehwag was his usual self and Wasim Jaffer remarkably right behind the ball and working his wrists like VVS Laxman. A brisk spell from West Indies' opening bowlers, where Jerome Taylor was noticeably sharp and bent his back to get some sharp pace and bounce, did not hamper Jaffer and Sehwag from bringing up the fifty partnership off just 57 balls. When Sehwag was out, fishing outside off against Corey Collymore and edging to slip, the tempo of the Indian innings dropped. But only just, as Jaffer and Laxman pressed on.
Laxman, under a bit of pressure for want of a big score, was understated in his strokeplay. Ironically, the normally reticent Jaffer was unusually expressive, square-driving, pulling and even flicking through midwicket for boundaries. One gregarious drive too many landed in Lara's lap at slip off Dwayne Bravo via the outside edge and Jaffer was gone for a well-made 60. Dravid joined his old friend Laxman at the crease, as India still trail by 431. But if you went by West Indies' approach, you would think it was they who were playing catch-up.
Marlon Samuels c Harbhajan b Sehwag 87 (562 for 6)
Holed out to midwicket going for a big one
Denesh Ramdin c Jaffer b Harbhajan 3 (570 for 7)
Swept to square leg
Jerome Taylor c Yuvraj b Harbhajan 2 (576 for 8)
Heaved across the line, good catch running back from midwicket
Pedro Collins c Dravid b Harbhajan 1 (581 for 9)
Failed to pick a doosra and edged to slip
Corey Collymore b Harbhajan 0 (581 all out)
Bowled through his legs by a doosra
Virender Sehwag c Lara b Collymore 31 (61 for 1)
Fished at one outside off and edged to slip
Wasim Jaffer c Lara b Bravo 60 (124 for 2)
Flashed outside off to slip
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo