The virtues of patience, an old fashioned quality which may make a person even squirm at the very thought of its utility, helped India stay in a Test that otherwise could have ended in disaster for them.
India had made dramatic changes to its team, to put up a mask of aggression to intimidate the West Indians. It did not, however, take much time for them to fall back in the middle of the innings to some slow and steady recovery work, as the flamboyant top order had been washed away by one strong gust of quick, swing bowling and some intemperate slogs.
Test cricket has its own rhythm, necessitated more by the conditions, the quality of the opposition and an individual’s responses to external challenges.
Two batsmen, or let us still call them part-time willow-wielders, as their primary job is something else, led the recovery. Wriddhiman Saha is a wicket-keeper and Ashwin’s main job is to bemuse the batsmen and take wickets.
Among the two, Ashwin is supposed to be more laid-back, his mind considered to be sharper than his physical movements. Saha, more intense and focused in contrast, has had to remain in apprenticeship for too long to MS Dhoni and owes his place to Dhoni’s abdication of his Test place. After Wednesday’s display of some orthodox, old school Test cricket while staying put at the crease, Saha will now no longer be seen as a replacement forced on the team by circumstances.
As later events were to show, when India lost its lower order even quicker than one fell asleep, Ashwin and Saha had together stitched a partnership whose intrinsic value may have not been lost on those who selected the final XI.
It was not Dhawan or Rohit’s flair and dash that the team could rely upon. Neither did the experience of a Rahane or the reliability of a Kohli help this time. India were in the dumps, having lost five wickets in getting past a mere hundred, when Ashwin and Saha turned things around.
It was not as if the bowling was insipid, far from it. The wicket may have eased a bit, the moisture of the first day having dried up, but it definitely was not easy. The young energetic Joseph or the strong and sturdy Gabriel were not easy to negotiate and here the virtues of patience paid.
Ashwin and Saha have all of a sudden given this Indian team a middle spine which it had lacked so badly. It is difficult to predict whether these two can sustain their performances against stronger teams, but for now let’s celebrate.
This West Indian team has, against all odds, shown fangs that most of us thought did not exist. It is still a collection of an unpredictable, inexperienced bunch of players, though so far in this Test they have shown a strong stamina for a fight. The Indians would want to snuff out that fight as quickly as possible, though most cricket fans around the world would hope that the West Indian fight back in the second Test was not an aberration.