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An admirable defence, but batting worries remain

It took them 261 balls to do so, but the Indians finally dismissed Shivnarine Chanderpaul when they most needed to. And in doing so, they continued a fine tradition of defending low totals, especially against West Indies. The 1983 World Cup triumph (West Indies needed 184), the classic tied game at Perth (126 played 126 in 1991-92) and the recent victory at Kuala Lumpur all showcased Indian defiance in seemingly hopeless situations, and years from now, those that watched this match play itself out on a treacle-slow and spin-friendly surface will probably speak of this in the same reverential tones.

It's ironic and not a little cruel that a man who had made 216 unconquered runs before committing his first mistake of the series will have to carry the can for this West Indian collapse. Towards the end, with wickets falling at the other end and the asking-rate mounting, Chanderpaul simply couldn't up the ante. He played out six dot balls in Harbhajan Singh's final over and showed inordinate faith in his hapless tail-end companions by taking singles even as the pressure became inexorable.

As for India, hopefully the team management won't gloss over another miserable top-order capitulation on a pitch that wasn't the featherbed that they seem to require these days. Three days ago, they had the better of a mindless slog-fest on a Nagpur pitch that deserved to be dynamited, but confronted by a surface where bowlers weren't cannon fodder, they were back to their meek and ineffectual best. West Indies bowled cleverly in the opening overs, with Daren Powell outstanding, but the batsmen contributed to their own demise with some appalling shot selection.

Powell's changes of pace were especially eye-catching, on a pitch where the ball appeared to take an age to reach the bat. Sourav Ganguly's recent renaissance didn't continue, with a 112 km/hr slower ball the precursor to one hurled down at 140.9 that was tamely fended to short midwicket. And after Sachin Tendulkar had miscued an on-drive to depart for a blob, Rahul Dravid was outfoxed by a magnificent slower delivery timed at 107 km/hr.

At 69 for 6, even three figures should have been beyond India's ambit, but Dinesh Karthik and Ajit Agarkar chose the occasion to embarrass their more illustrious colleagues. His three one-day outings in South Africa had fetched Karthik just 42 runs, and though indiscrete shots cost him each time, he showed a willingness to take on the bowling that revealed itself again in the Cape Town Test.

In a hopeless situation on Wednesday afternoon, he was magnificent, driving the ball beautifully while also showing plenty of ingenuity in picking the gaps. He wasn't afraid either to go over the top, on a pitch where such shots were a rarity. But for the poor attempt to steer Bradshaw down to third man that sent him on his way, his 63 was ample proof of why India have to take him to the Caribbean in March.

It helped of course that Agarkar finally batted like a man with a Lord's century in the scrapbook at home. In his past 44 matches, Agarkar hadn't once crossed 25, often threatening to lapse into the sort of inadequacy that characterised his Bombay Duck years. But with Karthik desperately needing an able foil, he came good, picking off the bad ball with unerring regularity as India finished with a total that was beyond their wildest expectations at the halfway mark.

The one man who didn't do his Caribbean dream much good was Joginder Sharma. Walking out adorned with the short of bandana favoured by Japan's Kamikaze pilots and Imran Farhat - whose approach to batting tends to be as suicidal - Sharma lasted just six balls before an ugly hoick that would have made the dressing-room wince.

His efforts with the ball also didn't suggest that he's a superior option to Irfan Pathan, who's at least an accomplished bat. After three tight overs, he produced one horrendous one that forced banishment to the outfield. He was to stay there for the rest of the evening, contributing to one run-out despite a fumble, and wondering if he'll enjoy another day in India colours.

As the pitch deteriorated steadily, it was inevitable that India's spinners would come to the fore. Ramesh Powar had to endure the odd meaty blow, but still tossed the ball up to befuddle batsmen who just don't play the turning ball with any conviction. At one end, Chanderpaul was all serenity and poise, while at the other, his compatriots searched for ways to get themselves out.

That said, but for India's inability to hit the proverbial barn door from within the circle, Chanderpaul wouldn't have been around for another nail-biting denouement. When he was on six, Dravid missed with a shy from midwicket, and when he had 21, Ganguly fluffed an even easier chance from short cover. The wealth of experience that they bring to the batting is one thing, but India will surely count the cost of ageing arms in the inner ring when it comes to the crunch in the Caribbean.