Windies wobble after wresting a 332-run lead
Turbocharged by Jerome Taylor, West Indies dismissed India short of the follow-on mark but hamstrung by an injury to Pedro Collins, Brian Lara decided not to make the Indians bat again as this Test once again seemed destined for a draw at the end of an unusual fourth day's play at Bassaterre, St. Kitts. West Indies did well to bowl India out for 362, and then ended on 113 for 4, an overall lead of 332, with one 98-over day left to go.
When the day began with India on 150 for 2, the game was slowly but steadily shaping into a stalemate. But suddenly, 157 for 2 became 159 for 5 as Taylor ripped out the heart of the Indian batting with three wickets in six balls. Bowling with pace, moving the ball in the air through both conventional and reverse swing, Taylor made everyone, not least the Indians, sit up and take notice.
First Taylor got rid of Rahul Dravid, who walked into a defensive shot and was rapped on the pad by a ball that came in a touch after pitching. Dravid had made 22. Brian Jerling, the South African umpire, who steadfastly refused to entertain any shouts for leg before in the first three days, gave the first lbw decision of his career, and it wasn't a bad one. Yuvraj Singh's run of low scores in Test cricket continued when he chased a widish delivery and feathered a nick to Denesh Ramdin behind the stumps.
Yuvraj had gone for a duck and Mohammad Kaif soon followed suit. He looked to flick a straightish ball to leg but the ball came in quite sharply with the angle and beat the bat, hitting pad. Kaif was a bit across his stumps but middle and off were clearly visible and it appeared as though the ball would have gone on to miss the leg stump. All at a sudden India were in deep, deep trouble and it fell on Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to repair the damage.
It was a workman-like effort from Laxman with glimpses of his vintage best. He wasn't always entirely comfortable with the slowness of the track, as quite a few deliveries kept low, but he gritted it out nevertheless. The magic appeared once he neared his hundred - a couple of classic back-foot punches following a flowing straight-drive - and he brought up the landmark with a steer through third man. But he fell off the very next ball, edging a Collins away-swinger, and watched Ramdin pluck out a sharp catch diving to his right.
Laxman's knock had pushed India along to 297, but they were far from safety, still needing 85 runs to avoid the follow-on. Anil Kumble held one end up as he has so many times in the past, making the most of the scoring opportunities that came his way without ever attempting anything adventurous. But when he too fell, with India on 311, for an invaluable 43, the end of the innings was not far. Kumble attempted to pull Collymore without quite getting into position and the resultant top edge was juggled and finally caught by Collins at fine leg.
But Lara, in a move that will find a fair share of critics, did not enforce the follow-on, and with that threw away West Indies' best chance of winning this game. It's one thing to suggest that West Indies were without Collins, who limped off injured, but in Taylor, Collymore and Bravo they still had three bowlers who could have taken a shot at India. That they chose not to smacked of a reluctance to try and force a win.
To their credit, though, West Indies batted positively, putting 113 on the board. In the process they lost four wickets, but how much impact that will have remains to be seen as they will not declare leaving India anything less than 400 at about five an over to get. From a follow-on situation, where only one team could have won, West Indies were left looking at one where a few cruel twists could leave the boot on the other foot. Ironically, it was a situation of their own making.
Rahul Dravid lbw b Taylor 22 (157 for 3)
Struck on the pad on the walk
Yuvraj Singh c Ramdin b Taylor 0 (159 for 4)
Fished outside off stump
Mohammad Kaif lbw b Taylor 0 (159 for 5)
Unlucky as the ball was going down leg
Mahendra Dhoni lbw b Collymore 29 (220 for 6)
Tried to work a straight one to the on side and missed
VVS Laxman c Ramdin b Collins 100 (297 for 7)
Edged and outswinger and was well caught by the keeper
Anil Kumble c Collins b Collymore 43 (311 for 8)
Top-edged a pull to fine-leg
Sreesanth c Lara b Collins 0 (315 for 9)
Edged to the keeper trying to cut one that was too close for the shot
Munaf Patel c Ganga b Bravo 13 (362 for 10)
Attempted to drive a widish ball and edged to slip
Chris Gayle c Dhoni b Sreesanth 3 (3 for 1)
Tickled one down leg
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Dravid b Sreesanth 23 (46 for 2)
Sliced to slip
Brian Lara st Dhoni b Kumble 19 (81 for 3)
Came down the track and was well beaten
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c & b Kumble 11 (102 for 4)
Scooped a low return catch
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo