S. Ram Mahesh
Basseterre: The third Test here at Warner Park was outlandish. But for all the right reasons. The team that won the toss, and piled on runs like a starving man at an eat-your-fill buffet, had a spot of indigestion on the final day, after finding the fish it was about to sink teeth into could bite back.
But, all almanacs of some standing will note is that West Indies drew with India, setting the stage for a winner-takes-all final Test in Jamaica that begins on Friday. Three draws that were either alive or came to life on the fifth day have ensured that much. That, however, is a story for another day.
On Monday, India came close to winning its third Test not as close as the previous two in three attempts. But, as this writer had said about the second Test, that the tourist came close is admirable, not cause for concern.
There, it very nearly squeezed out a win in four days. Here, it almost chased down 392 in 88 overs well, almost is relative for it ended with 298, but don't be fooled by the 94 it fell short by.
India needed 149 from 25 overs with eight wickets standing at one stage. Attainable on a track with bounce; a lot tougher on the low, slow strip the Warner Park pitch had become. The visiting side got into that position courtesy all that is good and great about Indian batting. Each member of the top four played his part well.
If blame were to be apportioned for the match ending in stalemate, Brian Lara would be most guilty. Setting targets on tracks like these is all about the tease: on such pitches, getting wickets is easiest if one were at liberty to ever call taking wickets easy when the batsmen play strokes, something Lara acknowledged. Yet the West Indies skipper gave India a target that allowed it to reassess at breaks, have a dash, and down shutters when needed.
Crucially, it wasn't a target India would have been disappointed not chasing down. ``Almost 400 in a day was always going to be tough,'' said skipper Rahul Dravid, expectedly. ``360 was the score we thought we could go for, at four an over; 400 has probably never been done on the final day. That he (Lara) set us so much was actually a back-handed compliment. He knew we had the quality, so he didn't leave us 360.''
So, India would have gone wholeheartedly for 360 the mind-set changes when a team chases expecting to win, from when it bats ``seeing how it goes, and having a bit of a dip,'' as Dravid said about the India batting on Monday. The greater premium on victory, and its attendant pressure can play strange tricks.
Playing it safe
Lara has insisted on ensuring his team gets into positions where it can't lose rather than positions from where it can force wins. Playing a bowler short betrays defensive thinking, and it's disappointing for the 37-year-old has great tactical fizz.
``Credit to the Indians for having a sniff at some stage,'' said Lara, ``they batted very well, but we knew it was not going to be a demolition job. You saw how difficult it was for us when they shut shop.''
If one were to pick something about India on the final day to carp about it was the side's approach after Laxman fell. The 31-year-old controlled an innings given impetus by Sehwag, calmness by Jaffer, bloody-mindedness by Dravid, and substance by all of them. Dhoni, promoted rightly, smashed the first ball he faced for six.
Lack of strike rotation
The trouble thereafter was not that he managed just another six; the West Indies bowlers hit excellent lengths just short enough on a track that made it come on slowly and if Dhoni couldn't, nobody could. The trouble was not enough singles were taken. Twelve of Dhoni's 20 came in two balls the other eight took 24.
Perhaps a few more singles would have brought India in range. The result might have been the same, but what is punditry if not splitting hairs!