India undone by bounce and blase attitude
If one were to believe the grapevine, a few West Indian players apparently abused the groundsman this morning, cursing him for preparing a pitch that "broke their hearts". At the end of the day, with old-timers at Sabina Park briefly being reminded of Michael Holding terrorising Bishan Singh Bedi's side in 1976, there was only one team with broken hearts, and it was most definitely not West Indies.
Like at Antigua, in the first Test of the series, Rahul Dravid won the toss; like then he batted and watched as the rest of the top order were felled by the slightest hint of life on the pitch. Like then, it was left to him to play the lone hand, digging a trench and gritting his teeth. The rest were systematically dismantled - put in a cage, frustrated and enticed into the wrong stroke. Lara had said yesterday that India's batting mainly revolved around Dravid; one look at the scorecard today and you can't deny it.
Whether the pitch is fooling everyone or if everyone is playing games will be known only at the end of it all. Yesterday's situation: Charlie, the head groundsman, promised bounce, Dravid said it was a slow wicket, Lara said they're wouldn't be bounce but thought it may spin. Today's update: Dravid termed it a "strange" surface, Lara said it was a sort of wicket where getting past the new ball would solve a number of problems, and Charlie just smiled. Dravid termed it a "fighting" total while Lara thought his bowlers had performed a "Herculean task" on a pitch that lost a bit of life as the day wore on.
It's got several heads spinning but it would be foolish to attribute the events of the day solely to the surface. Jerome Taylor delivered an inspired performance, left his home crowd delirious and showed that India's batting had, not one, but several chinks. Corey Collymore threatened to bowl more maidens than concede runs and India's batsmen were simply jailed. Four years back, India found themselves on a difficult track at Headingly and, thanks to Dravid and the dogged style of Sanjay Bangar, reached 58 for 1 at lunch. Now if that was considered a calm beginning, this one, when India had half of that score at lunch, was nothing short of monastic. There were seven maidens in the first hour and the first four didn't come till the 19th over. And to think of it, just a couple of weeks back, Virender Sehwag had threatened to score a hundred before lunch.
Having done all the hard work before lunch, they went about undoing it after. India were felled - by seam, bounce and indiscretion. It was a sight to see Taylor running in, spearing in the yorkers, hurting Yuvraj Singh, digging in the shock ball and getting Mohammad Kaif to dance on springs. There was no shortage of advice from the stands and Taylor delivered a performance that his mentor, Courtney Walsh, would have applauded. At 91 for 6, India's innings was, like the North Stand, exposed.
They were rescued by two men who, for many years, have embodied an over-my-dead-body attitude. For about a session, Dravid and Anil Kumble, team-mates at Karnataka, picked up the pieces and displayed the kind of "character" that was lacking in the rest. Kumble, as he did in the previous game at St Kitts, chose the right balls to put away and ensured that he didn't do anything reckless.
Dravid was all praise for Kumble. "He's not one of the most gifted of batsmen but with his limited ability, I think he maximises it amazingly," said Dravid. "He is always fighting. It's great to have him, when you are batting with him, you know he is not going to let you down for effort. It's great just terrific seeing Anil fight it out. It sets a great example and it shows a lot of people in the dressing-room what Test cricket is all about."
India, who've picked only two medium-pacers in their line-up have problems. West Indies squandered a great chance to win at Antigua and would be desperate to make amends here. Lara's already talking about "batting for two days". India would do well not to look at any numbers tonight. Only once has a team drawn after making 200 or less in the first innings of a Sabina Park Test; nobody has won. If India can come back from here and clinch this one, it would no doubt he historic. That's what they came here for, after all, didn't they?
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo