Calcutta: Carl Hooper’s team had barely become familiar with the environs in India, when word came that the West Indies Cricket Board had sacked its chief executive.
The accountability-review, one understands, gave Gregory Shillingford rather low marks. The sack, perhaps, was also intended to fire a chilling message across West Indies cricket.
Belatedly, that seems to have reached Hooper and Co. Indeed, Day I of the final Test (for the Exide Cup), at the Eden, saw a distinctly disciplined effort with the ball and in the field.
At stumps, India were 275 for six.
After being overrun on successive days at the Wankhede and in Chennai, it must be a huge relief for coach Roger Harper and the captain himself.
[Speaking exclusively, Harper said: “We’ve had a decent day, but could have done better. We’ll be achieving our goal, for the time being, if we don’t allow more than 50-odd runs.”]
Of course, the Indians helped with awful shot-selection, Wednesday, but that shouldn’t take too much of the credit away from the visitors.
There were moments which suggested the Indians probably weren’t there one hundred per cent but, still, a total of at least 350 will slam all the pressure back on the West Indies.
Incidentally, though play continued for 10 minutes beyond the scheduled close, the visitors only bowled 83 overs. Despite floodlights — which, by the way, aren’t effective in the twilight period — stumps had to be called prematurely. Day II, then, gets underway half-an-hour early.
For the West Indies, the start was far from encouraging when Hooper lost the toss (the coin landed tail-up) and Virender Sehwag was into business straightaway: Dealing in sizzling boundaries.
Yet, the boot quickly shifted to the other foot once Mervyn Dillon trapped Sehwag leg-before (35 off 35 deliveries) — the opener paying for indecisive footwork.
But for vice-captain Rahul Dravid, handed an appalling verdict from David Shepherd (widely regarded as among the very best), and top-scorer Sanjay Bangar, the rest effectively allowed themselves to be dismissed.
That, too, after getting their eye in.
Sachin Tendulkar, captain Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman… Had coach John Wright introduced fines for batsmen as well, all three would have had to make heavy payments.
For starters, Sachin — who was positive instead of trying to curb what comes naturally — played away from the body.
As for Sourav, he announced arrival with supremely-timed boundaries and looked good for a Test hundred on home turf. At the stroke of tea, however, he fell trying to cut Hooper.
Ridley Jacobs fumbled, but managed to hold on.
Then, in Dillon’s final spell, Laxman probably assumed he was at the Hussain Sagar Lake, waiting for the season’s best catch. As it turned out, he offered a simple one to Chris Gayle in slips.
Actually, at 165 for four, India had been pushed towards an embarrassing corner. Bangar and Laxman, though, then stitched the innings’ most fruitful partnership (77 in 79 minutes, 18.5 overs) to lessen the West Indies’ hold.
Thanks to the pair, India added 60 in the fifth hour, matching the first hour’s effort. Otherwise, in between, the pace was tardy: 38, 30 and 37 in the second, third and fourth, respectively.
That association ended when Bangar received an unplayable ball from Cameron Cuffy, which stopped and took off.
Bangar’s 77, his third fifty (apart from the hundred in Nagpur), came in 319 minutes and off 197 deliveries (13x4).
His effort, however, wasn’t blemishless: On five, Shivnarine Chanderpaul dropped him off Dillon who, because of the circumstances, is reduced to being a stock rather than a shock bowler.
While Bangar deserves praise for exemplary concentration, Team India will be even better served if he improves on strike-rotation.
Talking to The Telegraph, later in the evening, Bangar pointed out he never quite found it tough concentrating for long periods.
“I suppose my upbringing, where I learnt to focus on everything, has been a big help… Perhaps, it has something to do with character,” he explained.
While the Indian XI was on expected lines, the visitors excluded leggie Mahendra Nagamootoo after naming him in the XII. It meant not including a specialist spinner.
While that would be unthinkable for most teams in the sub-continent, Hooper and Harper can turn around and argue that the Day I scoreline vindicates their decision.
In fact, the West Indies can take heart from Jermaine Lawson and Darren Powell. Both Jamaicans aren’t reluctant to bend their back and that aggressive body-language is bound to keep batsmen on their toes.
Significantly, Lawson (who earned his first cap at the Chepauk) again snared Sachin and, so, even the numero uno will be watchful the next time he faces the 20-year-old.
Hooper, predictably, bowled quite a few overs and, going by the faith (rather, the lack of it) in the Nagamootoos and Gareth Breeses, will soon be recognised as the top spinner.
One wonders, though, whether that label will please Hooper.