There is so much time left in this Test match and that is the key factor for both sides from here on. At the end of the third day's play, West Indies reached 186/4 and secured a slender lead of 37, but lost the vital wickets of Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the process. With two days left to play, India will now be keen to get into the West Indian tail soon and keep the target down to a minimum as batting last on this wicket will be difficult, even in the face of a modest target.
It was a bit of a see-saw day for the Indians. Beginning the day on 190/5, they managed to reach 316 thanks to some positive batting from tail-enders Harbhajan Singh and Javagal Srinath. Once again, the West Indies had a poor session in the field, grassing as many as five catches. This was one of the major factors in ensuring that the home team gained a first innings lead of 149.
In the morning, the fall of VVS Laxman's wicket, caught and bowled by Gareth Breese for 24 did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of India's lower-order batsmen.
Harbhajan, in particular, was effective with his unorthodox strokes. Helped by the fact that the West Indies took the second new ball and sent down several short deliveries, the offie swished, swatted and swiped his way to 37 off just 43 balls, with the help of five boundaries and a six. By the time Merv Dillon put one delivery in the right slot and knocked over Harbhajan's stumps, India had reached 255.
Parthiv Patel, stroking the ball well but failing to find the gaps, made a laboured 23 before charging down the wicket and being stumped off the bowling of Breese.
Srinath, who had prospered in Patel's company, though, ensured that the visitors' gained little heart from the dismissal, continuing to clatter the ball to all parts. When the bowling was full, the bat came neatly down the line and sent the ball sailing over the off side field. Anything short was cross-batted through midwicket. Scoring a crucial 39, Srinath made his primary job as a bowler much easier.
Little did he know how easy though. In just the fourth ball of the West Indies second innings, Chris Gayle slashed a Javagal Srinath delivery down Anil Kumble's throat at third man. The opener was dismissed for a duck even before his team's innings could kick off.
But with Wavell Hinds, Gayle's opening partner, and Ramnaresh Sarwan forging a 96-run partnership for the second wicket, his loss was soon forgotten. Hinds was aggressive for 61 but it was that trait that eventually brought about his downfall. Attempting to hit Harbhajan Singh over the top, against the spin, Hinds only managed to top edge the ball for Ganguly to complete an easy catch.
For once Chanderpaul, who replaced him, fell early. Flicking on the up to a delivery that was full and on his pads, Chanderpaul (3) only managed to hit a Srinath delivery straight to Harbhajan at midwicket.
Hooper, in majestic touch, though, did not allow the West Indies innings to stutter, hitting three boundaries and two spectacular sixes in an innings of 46, but fell in the 52nd over of the innings when he attempted to push Kumble through the off-side. The googly came back in a touch, kissed the glove and went to Parthiv Patel behind the stumps.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, criticised so many times for getting good starts and not going on, has batted well to reach 62. He will, however, have to do a lot more work tomorrow. The elegant middle-order batsman has showed that he clearly had class. Yet that alone is hardly going to be enough for the visitors.
Ryan Hinds is at the wicket with Sarwan, with Ridley Jacobs and Gareth Breese to follow. The trio of all-rounders have done little to show that they can stay at the wicket for extended periods. Ganguly will bank on this when he sets his bowlers on the West Indians early on the penultimate day. A confident Virender Sehwag said earlier in an interview, ""We should be able to force a result on the fourth day itself." The trail-blazing opening batsman also said, "There is lot of bounce and turn in the wicket and in the first innings our spinners got eight wickets. A lead of 150 should be enough for us to win."
India missed a lead of 150 by a whisker but should still have enough firepower to wrap this game up on the fourth day.