Rather be safe than sorry
The only time any team lost after conceding more than 580 in the first innings of a Test was way back in 1894, when Australia lost to England in a freakish game. If you remove Tests at the Antigua Recreation Ground, the last time West Indies scored more than 580 in the first innings was back in 1995, against England at The Oval. Suffice to say, West Indies missed a great chance to win a game; the fact that India were actually within striking range of sneaking it, tells you a bit about the contest.
The rain, that ate up two sessions, didn't help West Indies; neither did the slow nature of the pitch. Brian Lara's decision with the follow-on might not have made that much difference to the outcome of the match; in fact it would have drained all his bowlers. As he himself said later, his best chance to win the match was to keep India interested in the target. Survival wasn't going to be that difficult, not on this featherbed. Their bowlers lacked penetration on the final day and a couple of dropped chances, both off Virender Sehwag, didn't help them either.
India needed to pace the chase well. Sehwag normally bats only one way and they probably decided to take a call after he left. Not only did he improve his second-innings average, currently at 24.70, but created an instant impact. Having been generously granted two chances, he merrily splintered his way to a 75-ball 65. Another hour of Sehwag and Lara might have had fielders scurrying in various directions.
India's slowdown in the second session might have been baffling - managing just 91 in 29 overs with Rahul Dravid, particularly, unable to force the pace against the spin. Yet, they left themselves with 134 to get in the last 20 with Mahendra Singh Dhoni already announcing his intent to destroy. With six wickets in hand, you'd have expected some more vim. Lara would have known that; he altered his plans smartly.
"You have got to remember the lengths they were bowling as well," said Dravid when asked about Dhoni not stepping it up after a dashing start. "He did go for it when it was pitched up and when it was pitched short it was keeping low and it wasn't easy to cut. It was that kind of wicket; only certain kind of shots could be played. The bowlers and captain realised that quickly and instructed bowlers to bowl wide of the off-stump or short. You didn't get the pace for the square cuts. When the balls come on to the bat, you can use the angle or pace to play square off the wicket. This wicket wasn't easy for those kind of shots."
He later admitted that 350 would have been chase-able, calling Lara's decision to delay the declaration as a "back-handed compliment". So with three Tests on, the only thing to have regaled is the "character" that both teams have shown trying to draw matches. Considering that 20 of the 33 Tests played in the Caribbean over the last five years have produced results, three successive draws remains a mystery. Someone has to culpable for this state of affairs. Maybe it's the pitches, but they haven't changed character overnight (in fact Andy Atkinson, the groundsman whose visited these parts over the years, feels that Caribbean pitches started changing character in the early '80s). Maybe it's the mindset of the two teams, trying to play too safe and not trying to force a result.
The answer, though, may lie with the players themselves. Lara's statement was instructive: "Before the Test starts, you can try to get a surface that you want but as soon as the game starts it's upto the skills of the players that's involved." It was difficult to imagine West Indies' attack bowling India out in less than a day; as it was with India's bowling attack in St Lucia. Bowlers have had the odd good spell but at no point of time, except on the first day of the series, have they looked like dominating. You can talk about umpiring, weather, pitches, batsmen, beaches, music and whatnot but the fact of the matter is neither bowling attack has been good enough to take 20 wickets in a game yet. If you're somewhere near Sabina Park, please don't hesitate to drop in and experiment with your pick-axe.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo