Kumble, Harbhajan wreck clueless West Indians

They tried harder, much harder than they did in Mumbai

Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
They tried harder, much harder than they did in Mumbai. The result, however, was not any better. The West Indian batsmen managed to put just 167 runs on the board after electing to bat on a dry Chennai wicket that was up and down and turned very early in the day. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, winding up the red cherry like a kid on the streets would string a top, made the batsmen fend, fumble and fidget before finishing them off. To add to the Caribbean misery, India's opening batsmen made merry, chalking up 31 for no loss in eight overs.
There are different ways of celebrating a personal event like one's birthday. There are, however, very few better than bagging a five-wicket haul in a Test match and bowling your side into a position of absolute strength. Kumble, with 5/30, including a dramatic second spell of 8.3-2-10-4, marked the occasion of his 32nd birthday in fine style. Only yesterday, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was presented with the Castrol award for lifetime achievement. With his showing today, Kumble has moved one step closer to emulating his hero.
When they met the press before the start of this game, skipper Carl Hooper, coach Roger Harper and chairman of selectors Sir Vivian Richards made it amply clear that they expected more from their batsman. Rather imaginatively, the promised swift changes were made, with Cameron Cuffy making way for Jermaine Lawson and Gareth Breese replacing Mahendra Nagamootoo. Whether this move does anything to prop up the bowling department remains to be seen. For the moment, though, it is the batting that is the focal point of concern. And it should well be - the lack of runs on the board could easily cost the Windies this Test, and with it the series.
On the day, India got their strategy spot on. Using his pacemen judiciously to both keep things tight and work the ball into a condition where the spinners could work their magic, Ganguly gave the visitors no respite. An opening stand of 40, accumulated over a painful 24.1 overs gave some indication of the difficulty levels of batting on this wicket. The manner in which Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds toughed it out, however, could not have prepared the West Indies for such a dramatic collapse.
Bowling beautifully in tandem, Kumble (5/30) and Harbhajan (3/56) demonstrated how effectively a friendly rivalry between the two has inspired them to push hard for wickets. It was Harbhajan who began the West Indian downfall having Gayle (23) caught at point off a leading edge. Where the exuberant Sardar opened the door, the calculating, quiet Karnataka engineer entered and made his presence felt.
Using his accuracy as a lethal weapon, Kumble repeatedly kept the ball in the right places and allowed a two-paced wicket to do the rest. Apart from Hooper and Chanderpaul, no batsman looked even remotely comfortable. Most batsmen did their best to stay at the wicket for long, but with the runs not coming at a decent rate, all it needed was the odd ball to rear menacingly, or die low, for the West Indies innings to be derailed.
A regular stream of wickets - with Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Ryan Hinds, Ridley Jacobs and Gareth Breese all failing to reach even twenty - saw to it that India took early control of this Test match. It was only for a brief period when the Guyanese pair of Hooper and Chanderpaul were at the crease that the bowling was kept at bay. All of a sudden, the ball appeared to come onto the bat nicely, while the spin that was smart earlier on became slow and easily smothered. Gaps in the field were created and exploited, particularly by the skipper.
Hooper was at his vintage best, combining a dead straight bat with the poise and balance that makes for maximum result from minimum effort. Taking on the spinners, Hooper was severe on anything loose. Full deliveries were stroked delicately past fielders on more than one occasion and Hooper was on his way, scoring at an even clip.
Once again it was Zaheer Khan who accounted for Hooper. After taking elaborate care to set his field on the leg side, especially behind square, the left-arm seamer pushed one through quicker and full. In two minds about going forward or back, Hooper pushed at the ball, sending it floating towards cover. Sourav Ganguly, throwing himself to his left hung onto a good catch, ending Hooper's 38-ball 35.
Chanderpaul was once more at his cool best, untroubled by anything that was delivered to him, till a Kumble delivery, true to the man's nickname Jumbo, took off after hitting the deck and kissed the outside edge for Parthiv Patel to take a smart catch behind the stumps. Chanderpaul's 27, coming after a stay of more than two and a half hours ensured that the Indian batsmen did not have to pad up till late in the last session.
When the end came though, it was swift with the last four wickets being gobbled up by the spinners for the addition of just six runs. A total of 167 was never going to be enough to give the West Indies bowlers a chance to showcase their wares. Virender Sehwag, in his forthright manner, made the total look even smaller than it was by clattering five boundaries in his 21-balls 24. Sanjay Bangar, ever reliable, provided solidity at one end with six and India ended a thoroughly satisfying day on 31/0 from 8 overs. The West Indian lead stands at a mere 136. You can be sure that it will not be long into the second day before that too is wiped out.