Chennai: The grim faces in the Indian dressing room said it all. The home team’s chances of sealing the series at the Chepauk have suffered a setback and it did not make for a pleasant sight.
Virender Sehwag playing the wrong line to be bowled, Rahul Dravid missing the chance to equal Everton Weekes’ tally of five centuries in consecutive innings, and Sachin Tendulkar struggling to find his touch during his 156-minute stay at the wicket were some of the unsavoury sights for Indian fans.
Before his departure, only Sehwag looked convincing while Sourav Ganguly once again fell victim to the umpire’s whims. Despite flooring at least three easy chances, the visitors managed to restrict the Indian lead to 23 at close on the second day.
Though Sourav is not afraid to adopt a confident approach, sometimes the way his team plays reveals a sense of deep insecurity. Instead of being unduly circumspect — as it seemed when as fluent and natural a batsman as Sachin took 113 balls to make 43 — they should have been looking to dominate and demoralise their opponents. Have no doubt, Australia would have done just that, and little doubt either they would have succeeded.
As damp patches left by the overnight rain led to the loss of the morning session, talk at the press box veered around to the best-ever Indian batting line-up, especially the middle-order. Specifically, whether the one in the mid-Eighties comprising Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Yashpal Sharma and Sandeep Patil with Sunil Gavaskar and Krish Srikkanth at the helm was better than the current crop.
The collapse that followed did not provide much encouragement for those putting their money on Sourav and Co. The day’s achievements would be all in a day’s work for the West Indies of the Seventies. But for Carl Hooper’s boys, the age-old adage will hold true — beggars have very little choice. They have reason to feel satisfied with what they managed.
The quality of the West Indies attack was never going to be intimidating, at least that was what the indications were. There was no Glenn McGrath or Wasim Akram in sight but even the Pedro Collins, the Mervyn Dillons and Lawsons were tough to handle for this illustrious middle-order.
The sultry conditions in the afternoon had evaporated whatever little moisture that may have settled beneath the surface of the wicket. The West Indies pacers used the disturbing bounce on this slow wicket to unsettle the Indians.
Chief selector Vivian Richards can take some consolation from the way Lawson bowled on Friday. The debutant used his pace and high action while extracting reverse swing to keep the batsmen guessing.
But all these heroics were not to be seen as long as Sehwag, 61 off 65 balls, was around. Some of his strokes defied description, their inspiration coming from the dusty street corners of Najafgarh, on the outskirts of Delhi, where he spent his youth, rather than from the coaching manual.
Dropped twice, he welcomed Gareth Breese to Test cricket with two huge sixes. It was not only the skill that captivated, it was the calm assurance in his temperament.
Once Sehwag was gone and Dravid gave Jermaine Lawson his maiden wicket after leaving a gap for an inswinger to disturb the timber, Sanjay Bangar and Sachin tried to put on a salvage job. The stodgy opener consumed171 balls for his 40 before he decided to give some slip catching practice to the West Indies skipper.
Dillon struck in the very next ball, Sourav given leg before as the umpire decided to overlook the thick inside edge on to the pads. Sachin had a chance to lead the rescue mission but he faltered.
When he moved past 16, Sachin reached another milestone — 20,000 runs in international cricket. Only Allan Border’s tally of 17,698 is anywhere close to the Indian’s.
After plodding on, Tendulkar decided to end his agony by dragging a wide delivery from Lawson back onto his stumps. With the lights coming on to make up for the loss of time, one hoped they would bring a change in fortunes. Play was, however, called off shortly because of problems in sighting the ball and, in all, 13 overs were lost.
Considering the Caribbeans’ immaturity against spin and the wicket, a lead of around 150 should put the Indians in good stead. But for that the late-order has to get its act right.