The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crafty Harbhajan breaks Hinds-Gayle stranglehold

Calcutta: The buzz around town, when the West Indies arrived late Sunday, was that the number of their team meetings far exceeded runs in the series. Actually, that was being only slightly uncharitable.

On the strength of the visitors’ performance Thursday, Day-II of the final Test for the Exide Cup, it can be said the meetings haven’t totally been an exercise in futility. Having allowed India to rally from 165 for four, it was imperative the West Indies get off to the muscular start Gordon Greenidge (now a selector) and Desmond Haynes would provide. They did.

In fact, Jamaicans Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle authored the series’ best opening stand — 172, blunting the Indian attack on an admittedly rather benign wicket. In the first two Tests, the highest was 60 (Mumbai, second innings). Earlier this year, the same pair had taken 111 off India in the Kingston Test.

The bigger impact, by the width of the Hooghly, was Hinds’, who produced a character-coated 100 (third Test hundred, second against India).

That marvellous collaboration ended when Harbhajan Singh induced the 26-year-old to sweep straight into Sourav Ganguly’s hands.

Safe hands

Of late, the captain has graduated into the very-safe-hands club and, so, Hinds was preparing to vacate the crease even before the catch was completed.

But for a close call on 99, off Harbhajan, Hinds was flawless. His runs came in 251 minutes and off 201 balls (16x4). Such was Hinds’ dominance — on the front foot and back — that Gayle’s contribution was no more than 66.

Later, interacting with the Media, Hinds rated the effort here as his “best.” He put it thus: “Both the earlier hundreds were at home... Then, this one came about in trying circumstances and at a time our team isn’t doing well.”

He added: “I think I struck the right balance between attacking and defending.” He certainly did and, thanks to him, this Test isn’t over.

Hinds’ dismissal, though, sparked a collapse as Ramnaresh Sarwan was superbly stumped by the lively Parthiv Patel and, in the same Harbhajan over (the offie’s 23rd), Mervyn Dillon was bowled by a faster one. Indeed, the off-stump snapped and had to be replaced.

Not for the first time, then, the move to ‘protect’ a specialist backfired and Shivnarine Chanderpaul did have to take guard late this evening itself. At stumps (with five overs remaining), the West Indies were 189 for three.

Gayle, after 297 minutes and 196 deliveries (14x4, 1x6), is exactly 20 shy of getting to what will be his third Test hundred.

Significantly, all three wickets came in Harbhajan’s third spell (12-4-19-3). Anil Kumble went wicketless, but it will be unfair to judge him by the end-of-day figures alone. Jawagal Srinath, expected to strike with the cherry, instead did so with the willow.

The Eden wicket is affording turn, yes, but it’s awfully slow to encourage visions of a dramatic third day. At the same time, who knows...

For his part, Sourav is supremely confident. “The advantage is with us and, frankly, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be looking to make it 3-0,” he remarked, speaking exclusively during the ICPA fund-raiser.

V.V.S. Laxman, injured while fielding, was “fine” late in the evening.

Tail wags

Earlier, the Indian innings ended 90 minutes into the (advanced) day’s play. The highlight, clearly, was the rollicking 73-run partnership for the eighth-wicket between the teenaged Patel and veteran Srinath.

Srinath kept the protocol right by being much the senior partner — his contribution during that 55-minute (12.1 overs) blitz was all of 45. In any case, Srinath is quite fond of tearing into the West Indians.

Back in 1994-95, his 60 in the second innings at the Wankhede ensured the MoM didn’t go elsewhere. More recently, he lashed a quickfire 39 at the Chepauk (Test No. 2).

This morning, of course, Srinath was particularly severe on Cameron Cuffy. That the ball was new (it was taken straightway) and the outfield lightning quick did help Srinath, not that his panache doesn’t merit appreciation. Incidentally, it’s Cuffy who took the first wicket, that of Harbhajan.

The Patel-Srinath association ended when the former, who registered a career-best 47 (117 minutes, 87 deliveries, 6x4), departed attempting to reach his maiden fifty in extravagant fashion. Patel did have a let-off moments into Day-II.

Srinath followed, not much later, offering Hooper a regulation catch. His 46 came off just 40 balls (79 minutes, 7x4, 1x6), a feature being his preference for the aerial route. Kumble was last out, leg-before to Darren Powell.

By then, the Indians had added 83 to their overnight 275 for six — more than the “maximum” of around 50 coach Roger Harper was willing to concede. Dillon returned the best figures.

Refreshingly, though the contributors were only two (Srinath and Patel), the Indian tail did wag. But for that eighth-wicket partnership, the Indians would have been far from the comfort zone.

Just the other day, Patel told The Telegraph that “whatever” runs he gets will “help” the team. In innings No.1, at least, he did his bit.

Meanwhile, with the overs again being short, Day-III will also have an early start: 9.10 am.

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