How West Indies lost the plot
If one were attracted to a certain kind of symmetry, one would have imagined Brian Lara looking to declare the West Indies first innings on 588, as Rahul Dravid had done in St Lucia. Nobody, though, might have visualised how long it would take. The batsmen at the crease at the beginning of the second day were Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels and the score was 420 for 5. They started slowly until just after 10am, when Chanderpaul charged Anil Kumble with a four and then a six. The pace, it seemed, might be picking up. But it didn't happen, and if the batsmen had played true to form on the first day, Chanderpaul slowed it down to the first of his two styles, and, bizarrely, chose vigilance over velocity.
With around an hour to go before lunch, and West Indies at 515 for 5, Chanderpaul and Samuels appeared to be injected with some sort of cricketing anaesthetic. Here was a game, with two entire sessions already washed out, begging to be taken by the scruff of the neck and given some sort of meaning. You wish. In the next 14 overs Chanderpaul eked out 11 off 46 balls and Samuels struggled to get 9 from 38 and those at the ground, getting a feel of Test cricket for the first time, tortured into a slumber.
Harbhajan Singh was as flummoxed as everyone else: "We were not sure what their gameplan was," he said at the end of the day. "The way they were batting, we didn't know if they just wanted a draw here or wanted a result. We were happy that they were not scoring any runs and just kept bowling tight lines. If they would have scored a little earlier, they would have really put us under pressure by scoring 600 or 650. They didn't seem like they wanted to win the game, [and it seemed] as if they wanted to hang on there and defend everything."
Lara's defence showed that going for a win was always only a secondary option. "We wanted to bat at least half of the day, try to get in at least fifty overs for the Indians later on," he said. "And we did that, the guys batted really well. Of course, we were a bit slow before lunch but picked up the tempo after lunch. I think we've got in a position where there's going to be only one winner ... We need to start to learn to draw Test matches before we start to get to the other side of the success sheet. We'll definitely take the two draws so far, we weren't in winning positions. If we do get into a winning position tomorrow, we're definitely going to be pressing for it."
Samuels, whose Test career is not quite six years old with only 21 matches, did finally assert himself, just that it came after he'd entered what he termed as a "shell". One could give him a bit of leeway, considering how crucial this knock was for him. A batsman with obvious talent, Samuels had suffered from a recurring knee problem and a temperament that has often caused major friction with the administrators. After lunch, when he got the much-needed "wake-up call", he clattered two sixes and a four before holing out.
West Indies had reached 562. Surely that was enough. Given the rain, given the score, a rush of runs and a declaration seemed reasonable for a result. Not for Lara. Perhaps he was remembering Chanderpaul's 69-ball century in Georgetown and his brilliant 71 off 68 balls in Australia, maybe he was forgetting how the approach of a century seems to paralyse Chanderpaul. Ramdin came and went, sweeping a catch for 3, Jerome Taylor came and went, Pedro Collins came and went, and Chanderpaul, on 97, was centimetering to that hundred that now seemed endangered.
Collymore came, was plumb in front, survived the biggest appeal of the game, faced up to the next, had not a clue, saw the ball creep between his legs and take top of leg stump. It was difficult to tell if the smiles all round were to congratulate Harbhajan for his five-wicket haul or if they were out of sheer bloody-mindedness over the over-cautious approach that eventually denied Chanderpaul his ton. It all ended on 581 and, fittingly, there was no symmetry. There didn't deserve to be one.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad