Besides the Sachin Tendulkar hype, a lot of the pre-match talk surrounded Zaheer Khan’s exclusion from the side and Rohit Sharma’s long-awaited Test cap. With the morning Tendulkar festivities finally done with, the players strode out to the middle.
Besides new cap Rohit, Bengal officials perhaps forgot that one of their own lads too had come around. While the giant electronic screen read: “Congrats Rohit Sharma Test debut,” there was no message for Mohammad Shami, India’s reverse-swinging hero as West Indies were bowled out for 234.
While Zaheer’s strength is reverse swing - at least on Indian pitches - Shami filled that void to good effect. As sessions progressed, the Eden crowd became increasingly fond of Shami, shoring him up with thunderous claps every time he ran in.
For Shami, who made his Ranji debut against Assam here three seasons ago, was suddenly a hero. Never before had he seen so many people at Eden. His third spell, which saw him castle Marlon Samuels and Dinesh Ramdin with a couple of beauties, turned the game on its head when the Windies were coasting on 138-2 with Samuels and Darren Bravo in control.
“He (Shami) seems to have strong shoulders and that’s always good for fast bowlers. He’s able to reverse the ball at pace, and that’s a handful on Indian surfaces,” felt Trinidadian Ian Bishop. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the former India leggie, was pleased with the quick’s attitude.
“Even in his first spell, though he didn’t get wickets, he stuck to his task. And he doesn’t stray much in line. He’s a good find for India.”
Shami did leak some runs though, albeit mostly behind the wicket. He was out of the attack after conceding 18 runs off his first three overs of Test cricket. But he’s unquestionably a better old bowler.
Saba Karim, national selector from East Zone, was asked if the tricky decision to pick an untried Shami ahead of a pro like Zaheer pleased him. The former India wicketkeeper was all smiles, “I am glad a youngster has done well.”
In fact, Dhoni had the best answer when asked if Shami was ready for Test cricket. “Of course, he is. He’s a part of the Test squad,” the India skipper said on the eve of the match.
After Darren Sammy chose to bat, India’s new-ball bowlers were bang on money, though both Chris Gayle and Kieran Powell played some classy shots.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a tidy line, not necessarily the ideal length. On most surfaces, but especially in the sub-continent, there are two ways to get the dangerous Gayle – bowl a full length and hope for late swing since his bat comes down late.
Or have a spinner push him on the backfoot with a faster one. Bhuvneshwar finally had Gayle, who’d picked up a few streaky fours before edging one to second slip in the 11th over.
Shami’s first wicket came when Powell swung hard at a short and wide one to find a running Bhuvneshwar at mid-off. It seemed like the West Indies were digging their grave – considering that they’d survived nicks that bisected a heavy slip cordon.
By the 17th over, West Indies had 11 fours and a six - seven of them behind the wicket.
Typically, when the ‘V’ becomes inverted, you’re talking a very flat pitch. But they made a calculated effort to go after Pragyan Ojha, whose first ball saw Samuels dance down the track for a massive six.
Bravo, batting on 3 from 41 balls, then took cue from Samuels and went after Ashwin with a four and six off the 26th over. Suddenly, the West Indies were rollicking along.
Then Samuels was dealt a top class in-swinging ball from Shami that clipped the top of the middle stump. Then, there was proper reverse as Ramdin found out. Again, the middle stump!
When Sammy holed out off Ojha, with the visitors 172-6, it took 39-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul to drag them past 200. Shami cleaned up another debutant quick Sheldon Cottrell for his fourth wicket.