Question West Indies at your own peril. Just when everyone had given up hope and was ready to write an obituary on West Indies in Tests, a bunch of unknown cricketers managed to sneak out a draw that was improbable, perhaps impossible. Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder are not really unknown, not at least to people who have seen them grow. Few however would bet on them.
On Wednesday though, in front of not even a hundred fans, West Indies bet on themselves and pulled off a heist. Not even in their wildest imagination could India imagine that West Indies would lose just two wickets and score 340 runs. Even India have not scored that many in a single day so far. Such is the vagary of cricket, it is celebrated uncertainty. West Indies, a Test side that was at best trying to be labelled as an improving one without its best stars, pulled a fast one on a team six places above them in the ICC Test rankings and managed to draw a Test they were expected to lose badly.
India could consider themselves unlucky. Had it not been for Tropical Storm Earl, they could have wrapped up the Test match on Tuesday itself when Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami were breathing fire. But someone in the West Indies dressing room probably knew the rain dance better than anybody. When they came out on Wednesday, West Indies were a team on a mission. Blackwood set the tone with a 54-ball 63, going after Mohammad Shami and ruining his rhythm with four boundaries and a six. He went at the rate of knots but since this was Test cricket, Chase emerged as the one who would deny India a comfortable win.
India were lucky too. They could have easily ended the day with just one wicket but for Ian Gould’s blunder with Dowrich’s dismissal. Mishra’s straighter one caught an inside edge but Gould gave in to a huge appeal from the West Indians. But this comeback was all about Blackwood and Chase’s knocks. Both had rigorous nets just going into the morning session. And it reflected in their batting as they didn’t look to allow India get into any rhythm with their freestyle batting freestyle.
India floundered and as a result Blackwood reached his fifty in 41 deliveries while Chase got his in 86. Blackwood was almost broken through by Mishra in the 17th over but then he decided to counterattack by laying into Shami. He hit him for three boundaries before lifting Shami over his head for a huge six. Even Ishant Sharma couldn’t change Blackwood’s mind. Chase, however, had a slightly more difficult time. He was largely good against the spinners but against the pacers, especially Umesh Yadav, he looked worried.
Twice in the 26th over, Yadav softened up Chase with two bouncers. The first one arrived so quickly that by the time Chase could decide what shot to play, it hit him on his hands. The next arrived a little later than Chase expected and hit him flush on his stomach after getting an inside of his bat while pulling. Chase was relatively more comfortable against the spinners. And an open stance helped getting his left foot out of the way while going for a sweep or a pull over midwicket. The first two boundaries off Mishra came from that region but Mishra continued to bowl either full or extremely short. Mishra conceded 35 in an ordinary seven-over spell. R Ashwin, on the other hand, dismissed Blackwood and was marginally better with 14-3-49-1 but the pace bowlers weren’t insisted with enough.
Blackwood’s wicket came against the run of play when Cheteshwar Pujara held on to a brilliant low catch at short leg after Chase was duped by Ashwin’s dip. By then however, West Indies had metamorphosised into a side who had sown seeds of doubt in the mind of Virat Kohli. With a lead of over 300 runs though, Kohli attacked relentlessly. West Indies were equal to the task, creaming the Indians for 167 runs in an extended morning session. Dowrich’s wicket was the only one they lost in the next session though it was unfortunate one.
Holder by then however had somehow grown from a bits and pieces player to one who could deny India with his bat. But the next session was all about Chase who joined Sir Garfield Sobers, Collie Smith and Dennis Atkinson as the fourth West Indies player to score a century and take a five-wicket haul in the same Test. With Chase in the forefront, West Indies brought 300 off 472 balls and 315 minutes but India were still hoping for some magic with the new ball. The stump microphone caught Kohli’s call of “Shami ready rehna” but the India captain might have missed a trick by not giving the new ball to Sharma. By then, West Indies were anyway looking unstoppable.
In the 24 overs India bowled with the new ball, West Indies scored 82 runs and not for once did they look a side trying to save a Test. In the process, Holder scored a fifty that will no doubt go down as a captain’s innings that shielded the tail. Chase however shone like a uncut diamond. Last time a West Indies player had scored a century and taken a five-for in the same Test was Sobers against England in Leeds in 1966. Fifty years later, a Bajan infused life into a series that threatened to be one-sided.
It was almost liberating to see West Indies upend the odds against them even though Chase celebrated his century with half the machismo of Cristiano Ronaldo. They have proved their point. From now on, this series should be taken with a bit more seriousness. West Indies will be no pushovers. And neither will Kohli give up so easily. But in just one day, this series has stopped being a one-sided charade.