Sometimes boring can be effective. R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha reinstated that belief with almost zen-like patience. India gained massively from their approach. Ashwin got his fourth Test century — second in this series — while Saha suddenly shifted gears to reach his maiden century almost as quickly as his partner. In the process they raised a 213-run partnership for the sixth wicket and India were almost back on track with their plans of batting once in this match.
Unfortunately for India though, Ashwin and Saha looked the only two batsmen willing to give respect to the pitch and their opponents. After them, West Indies blew away the last three Indian wickets for just 14 runs to bring a quick end to their prolonged misery. To further strengthen their position, West Indies then went on to make a statement by scoring 107/1, their best start in this series so far.
It wasn’t as if the pitch had suddenly become easy for batting. In the over before lunch, Saha was struck on the elbow by a delivery he was looking to leave. An hour before that, Miguel Cummins got the ball to stay low in a delivery that almost kissed Saha’s off stump. Two deliveries later, Cummins had Saha hopping with a ball that almost threatened to take off his head.
But Saha and Ashwin held on. For the first hour of the second day they just allowed balls to pass by, scoring 21 runs in 13 overs. West Indies too were happy to bide their time, packing one side of the field and hitting the fifth stump line. India did on the second day what they should have done on the first. Saha was painstakingly slow again, at one time needing 22 deliveries to get his first runs through a boundary. Once he surpassed his previous Test best of 60, Saha started playing more freely.
Ashwin, on the other hand, had taken his patience to a different level when he waited for 15 balls to move from 99 to 100. He completed it grand style though, lifting Roston Chase over mid-on for a huge six. To give a measure of Ashwin’s patience, he scored just one boundary before that the entire morning — a cut through gully that took him to 99. Just before that Ashwin had given a chance, flicking Chase towards Leon Johnson at short-leg but he couldn’t hold on to it. That summed up the few memorable instances in a largely subdued but effective innings played by Ashwin.
Saha however owned the hour before lunch. Creaming two boundaries off Cummins in the 109th over was first indication of how he was ready to attack West Indies. Surprisingly though, West Indies didn’t respond equally, allowing Saha to grow in his confidence. Suddenly he had moved from 60 to 80 in the space of just 25 deliveries. By the time he reached his maiden Test hundred, the sixth wicket partnership had already crossed 200 and India, for the first time in this Test, looked good to get 400.
No late flourish from India
Like all good partnerships, this too had to end. But India still hadn’t learnt their lesson. Instead of giving support to Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja tried to stand and deliver, managing only a thick edge to the wicket-keeper. Having waited 281 deliveries for his first international wicket, Miguel Cummins then knocked over Ashwin and Ishant Sharma to give West Indies an acceptable first innings to contend with. India’s bowling helped as well.
With the new ball being shared by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, India denied themselves the natural bounce of Sharma on a pitch that aided carry. To add to their worries, Shami induced an edge of Kraigg Brathwaite that dropped short before Lokesh Rahul failed to hold on to a chance at slip. By the time Rahul had ran out Leon Johnson, West Indies had put on 59 for the first wicket and Brathwaite looked set to replicate his first Test form. Darren Bravo too wasn’t tested enough with short balls and as a result West Indies moved slowly but surely towards an assuring start.