West Bengal’s chief minister, aka ‘Didi’, had other plans for the afternoon. The boisterous Park Street ‘merry pranksters’, who prefer roving in painted trucks, were initially told the party was scheduled for the weekend. Brian Lara arrived in the city but never made it the ground. “We could not paint our faces or the trucks the minute the 7th wicket fell. We had to rush to the ground,” says a fanatic. “We just had to reach the ground before the team bus left. We had to,” he says irately after missing the bus, before cursing the traffic. They can’t fathom that Sachin Tendulkar will never again be in proximity.
For Kolkata, the party ended all too quickly, and the pooper was one of their own – Mohammed Shami. The debutant fast bowler followed upon his four first-innings wickets with another exemplary exhibition of reverse swing to trigger West Indies’ customary plummet from 101-1 to 168. Only veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul hung on bravely, didn’t throw in the towel. Shami blew away the rest.
While officials, television crew and everyone else engineering the party were geared up for an early climax, the people clearly were not. After Chris Gayle threw it away with an ordinary attempt at a pull shot, Kieran Powell and Darren Bravo were in the middle of a blossoming 68-run stand with tea just a few overs away. At 1.30 in the afternoon, there was most definitely a day left in the Test. But Ashwin removed them on either side of tea and entering the final session, MS Dhoni smelt blood and Shami was unleashed with the old ball. He had Marlon Samuels and Denesh Ramdin in a five-over burst before returning to clean up Darren Sammy and Shane Shillingford in the same over. Then came an incredible piece of cricket, Shami and 50,000-odd fans rising in appeal after Veerasammy Permaul was struck on the pads; Dhoni calmly threw the ball under-arm, and the Trinidadian was run out. Tino Best holed out to deep mid-wicket off Ashwin before Cottrell joined Shami’s victims.
India won by an innings and 51 runs to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series, continuing a three-inning tradition at Eden Gardens. West Indies had won by an innings thrice here – in 1958-59, 1966-67 and 1983-84. India has now returned the favour twice: they won by an innings and 15 runs in 2011-12.
Besides the two debutant heroes – Rohit Sharma (177) and Mohammad Shami (9/118) – India gained from R Ashwin’s all-round show. Ashwin, who struck his second Test century before India were all out for 453 earlier in the day, returned to take three wickets. But Ashwin was most proud of his 280-run partnership with Rohit, now India’s best-ever seventh-wicket stand. The duo got together when India were in a soup, still trailing West Indies by 78 runs.
“I don’t expect to be called anything,” he said, when asked if he could be referred to as “a tailender” with two Test centuries to his name. “I am a very big fan of Rohit. I never got a chance to bat with him in the past. I knew that if we had a good day together, we would take India ahead. I knew it would be a lovely partnership. And that’s what happened. We had a great time.”
Ashwin felt that next week’s foreseeable frenzy in Mumbai would outdo even Kolkata. “I really can’t imagine what the 200th Test will be like. Once I get there, I’ll know what to feel about all this. When I was growing up, I used to get a cramped stomach if Tendulkar got a bad lbw decision. Now, I’m going to be part of the team that bids him goodbye. It will be an emotional time for him. And at the end of the series, I’m sure it will be an emotional time for all of us too.” Over to the Wankhede!