It took West Indies two Tests to discover India’s Achilles heel --- the short ball. Virat Kohli needed two Tests to check the temperament of Chesteshwar Pujara, Umesh Yadav and Amit Mishra. They failed, and Kohli rang in changes.
What unravelled at the Darren Sammy Stadium was a little anti-climactic for India. Murali Vijay was supposed to be fit but Kohli’s perseverance with KL Rahul paid off to some extent. Rohit Sharma again got a chance against his favourite Test opponents but the script was a little different from his Kolkata debut three years back. Kohli came at No 3 in place of Pujara and by tea, India were 130/5, a scenario unimaginable even two weeks back.
Only two of Kohli’s decisions clicked --- sticking to Rahul and sending R Ashwin at No 6. In what is turning out to be a memorable series for Ashwin, he scored 75 and forged an unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership of 108 with Wriddhiman Saha to place India at 234/5. To progress to a position of dominance, Kohli will have to hope that Ashwin and Saha continue their good work before Ravindra Jadeja, who comes in for Mishra, finds some runs with the bat.
West Indies, on the other hand, are steadily improving. What changed between the first Test and now is how they were ready to crank up the pace. By giving Alzarri Joseph his first cap, West Indies captain Jason Holder walked his pre-game talk of adding an extra pacer. Joseph set up the morning by making Kohli almost lose his balance with a bouncer that snorted above his shoulders. That one delivery almost gave licence to the West Indies to mount a full-blown assault.
Joseph lived up to his reputation, snapping up Kohli with a short one again. Pitched in short, the ball climbed on Kohli, denying him any room as the India captain was forced to fend the ball to Darren Bravo at first slip. That Joseph is no one-trick pony was established when he lured Rohit into a ball that angled in but moved away at the last moment with a faint edge off his bat.
Sammy checks in
Almost simultaneously, a different drama happened outside the stadium with around 20 people protesting Darren Sammy’s sudden sacking, ranting how West Indies cricket had no idea what it was doing. Sammy came right in time with his father to quell the protests and asking his fellow St Lucians to join him in cheering West Indies.
“I understand your love and passion for me. But let it be peaceful. It’s up to the selectors to pick me or drop me so let’s not get into that. It’s just another hurdle in my life,” he said. Sammy went into the stadium for a fleeting visit but neither the giant screen nor the telly gave any inkling of his arrival.
His erstwhile teammates were almost on a roll by then. Every wicket had a plan written on it. Only once did Shannon Gabriel make the mistake of testing him with a short ball in the 23rd over. Rohit swivelled and pulled him over backward square-leg for a boundary. West Indies never bowled that line to him again.
Among the five dismissals, Shikhar Dhawan’s was the meekest though. Trying to flirt with a Shannon Gabriel delivery going down leg, Shikhar ended gifting a simple catch to Shane Dowrich. For the first time in his career, Rahul couldn’t convert a fifty into a hundred, but given the circumstances, he did really well for himself with a 65-ball 50.
Displaying ease against Joseph and Gabriel, Rahul played every ball on its merit without compromising on the run-rate. Everything outside off was dispatched with disdain but even Rahul couldn’t have seen his dismissal coming from Roston Chase’s off-spin.
Chase’s second wicket was Ajinkya Rahane and it came completely against the run of play. Initially peppered by short balls, Rahane was slow to start with. He weathered the storm but couldn’t capitalise on it when the ball was old and the field was spread. Chase tossed up a delivery that could have been driven but Rahane tried to sweep, missing the line completely and ended being bowled.
Patience need of the hour
In hindsight, maybe Kohli could have given Pujara another game. This pitch had bounce and movement and it needed someone of Pujara’s patience to drop anchor and allow others score. With both Pujara and Vijay on the bench, India ended up looking too aggressive on a pitch that required patience. Thankfully for India though, Ashwin and Saha staged a rescue act by being exactly that. By facing 190 balls for his 75, Ashwin showed that he was ready to play a long innings. Had it not been for the slow outfield, maybe he could have scored more boundaries. But for a long period, Ashwin and Saha just concentrated on taking the singles and twos.
That kept India’s scoreboard ticking. The second session, comprising 29 overs, yielded just 43 runs but the sixth partnership allowed India to breathe easy in the post-tea period. Ashwin was given a life in the 63rd over when Gabriel was called for a back-foot no-ball after he had cut him straight to Chase at backward point.
Apart from that, a wicketless third session --- 104 runs in 38 overs --- was pretty fruitful for India. Of that, 46 runs came from the last nine overs bowled with the new ball as both made the most of it to score seven boundaries. That phase of play gave India’s innings a much-needed boost.