This is a five-day Test match with 15 sessions and plenty of time to size opponents and then take the right steps towards challenging them. Morning session of the first day --- on a bouncy and turning Sabina Park pitch --- though was a no holds barred boxing round. Not willing to concede an inch, both West Indies and India dealt blows at each other. Some connected, some didn’t. Edges flew, batsmen were peppered with bouncers, hands went up in the air --- it was a riveting session that ultimately set up the Test nicely in India’s favour. West Indies fell away after a remarkable counterattack from Jermaine Blackwood that saw them recover from 7/3 with an 81-run partnership with Marlon Samuels. Under some pressure after getting a pair in the first Test, Blackwood came out guns blazing and completed his half-century at almost run-a-ball before throwing away the momentum to R Ashwin’s spin.
Ashwin returned after lunch to complete a second five-wicket haul in as many matches to dismiss West Indies for just 196 within two sessions. If West Indies’ first innings augured with the theory that batsmen could have it difficult on the Sabina Park pitch that had both movement and bounce, India made batting look a languid affair. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan applied themselves to build a first wicket partnership of 87 before Cheteshwar Pujara played a typically tight knock in the last hour to take India to a commendable 126/1 at stumps. Having lost just one wicket, India have now ensured that they can take as much time as possible to bat once and force a result here.
Too risky throughout
Criticised for being too inert in the first Test, this time West Indies fell prey to their aggression. Had it not been for Blackwood’s wicket an over before lunch, West Indies could still have been in a position to plan a slow revival. Scoring 130 out of the 196 runs through boundaries, West Indies however mistook aggression as the only way forward. It made for exciting cricket but only one team benefited from the hara-kiri.
The ‘no risk no gain’ policy adopted by West Indies though could have easily been avoided had captain Jason Holder not chosen to bat. Knowing full well that there would be bounce and pace in the first session, Holder decided against putting India to bat despite including pacer Miguel Cummins for Carlos Brathwaite. His openers paid the price for it. First to go was Kraigg Brathwaite in dismissal planned and executed perfectly. Ishant Sharma crumpled him up with a bouncer aimed at his ribs, almost prodding Brathwaite to fend it to Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short-leg.
Darren Bravo’s dismal series continued when he got out to the very next delivery from Sharma who was breathing fire from his first over. Anticipating a short one, Bravo was tempted to tickle a fuller delivery bowled wide. The ball flew to Virat Kohli at second slip. Three overs later, when Rajendra Chandrika needlessly poked at a Mohammad Shami delivery that was leaving him, West Indies looked seriously chastised for choosing to bat.
But then Blackwood launched a counterattack thrilling not just in terms of the scoring rate but also because of his audacity. He started off a bit reckless, throwing his bat at Shami’s leaving delivery to get his first boundary past over point. Then Shami’s bouncer flew off his top-edge. Against Sharma though, Blackwood found his feet. Starting off with a glanced boundary, Blackwood stunned Sharma in the 11th over by smashing a wide delivery for four without moving his feet.
Ashwin checks in
He followed it with a flat six over Sharma’s head that left even Kohli dismayed. Amit Mishra had a chance to catch Blackwood’s edge in the same over but it was always a long shot. By the time Blackwood danced down the pitch to hit Ashwin for a six, the momentum had suddenly been seized by West Indies. He repeated the feat twice against Mishra but Ashwin exacted his revenge when he struck in the last over before lunch, trapping him leg-before though it didn’t look as straightforward.
To the India pacers’ credit, they bowled an exceptional line. Shami was moving the ball and both Sharma and Umesh Yadav produced unsettling bounce. The central character though is the pitch. It is uncharacteristic of any pitch to assist so much movement not only for pacers but also spinners on the first day itself. Ashwin didn’t need a second invitation to impose himself on West Indies. He got into the groove by dislodging Marlon Samuels whose half-baked front-foot shot resulted in the ball taking an inside edge and give Rahul a simple catch at short-leg. Like in the first Test, there was yet another rearguard partnership of 36 runs for the 10th wicket that gave West Indies some semblance of respect.
Rahul and Dhawan however quickly snuffed out that by buckling down and stitching a strong start. Rahul especially looked in good touch with strokes ranging from cover drive to straight drive and even a gorgeous punch through point for four. Bravo had a chance to get rid of Rahul in the 18th over bowled by Roston Chase but he just couldn’t hold on to the catch at short midwicket. That was the only blip in a fine half-century compiled by Rahul who now looks set to get his third Test century in as many countries.