The moment Rod Tucker raised his finger, entire Feroz Shah Kotla froze, stunned silence surrounded as Bishoo celebrated his 35th victim in Test cricket and the historic venue was denied a much awaited milestone, yes 100th century of Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar as he departed leg before wicket 24 runs short of his century. It almost seemed that an India victory was taken for granted and the prime focus was on that elusive 100th Century.
The historic ground has been witness to a staggering display of spin bowling from Anil Kumble who decimated the Pakistan batting order with historic ten-wickets in an innings haul of 10/74 in 1999 and although it missed out on Tendulkar’s 100th, it was a blessed host to the Master’s 15,000th run in test cricket.
A stutter towards the end but a typical wristy VVS whip towards square leg sealed a deserved five wicket victory for India. Right from the start it was a battle of Experience versus grit. The return of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh added tenacity to an already experienced batting line up, while the Windies went into the match with heavy overdependence on an industrious Shivnarine Chanderpaul and tiny hopes on their little spin magician Devendra Bishoo.
The old Nemeses strikes again: With 1822 runs from 21 matches, 36 innings at an average of 67.48 with 6 centuries, 10 half-centuries and 9 not outs, there was hardly an iota of doubt about the reason for team’s overdependence on Chanderpaul. As always the unorthodox left-hander didn’t disappoint as he once again annoyed the Indian bowlers but this time around in an uncharacteristic manner. Surprisingly his strike rate column read 60.20. With debutant Kraigg Brathwaite (63), playing a stoic but soporific innings, Chanderpaul entered the crease at 72/3 in the 33rd over, and with those smart late-cuts, swift nurdles, intelligent chips, clever singles and two nonchalant sixes down the ground kept the scoreboard moving putting up an exhibition on art of tackling a slow low wicket. One century partnership with Brathwaite, who became only the second West Indian to score two fifties before his 19th birthday, and a half- century partnership with Carlton Baugh powered West Indies to a respectable total of 304.
A fine performance Overshadowed: Amongst all this, one performance went unnoticed, the performance of a man making his come back to the Indian team after a year out, yes Pragyan Ojha who bowled a splendid spell of 6/72, purchasing turn on a flat wicket on day one and mixing it up with his drifters. Ashwin supported him well with key wickets of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels finishing the first innings with figures of 3/81.
Collapse as Wall stands Tall: After 89/0 in the first innings, 209 all out was the last thing the Indian fans expected from their muscular batting order, an unfortunate run out started off the collapse and surprisingly it wasn’t the spin, but pace-battery of Sammy and Rampaul that decimated the Indian batting order with figures of 5/79 in between them helping the visitors attain a crucial 95 run lead. Once again it was a diligent Dravid who held the innings together for India with a stoic knock of 54.
Dream Debut: The second innings was all about debutant Ravichandran Ashwin who wrecked havoc with his flighted off-spinners, drifters and carrom balls picking up six wickets including the all-important mighty wicket of Chanderpaul, who looked menacing with 47 off 58 deliveries and in process became only the third India player to win the Man of the Match award on debut for his impeccable figures of 9/128.
He was duly supported by a fast and furious Umesh Yadav who picked up the key wickets of Edwards and Baugh to restrict the visitors to 180. An astonishing variety of deliveries in his armory separated the tall lanky off-spinner from the others.
Greatness personified: A target of 276 meant that if India were to chase it down it would be their third-highest successful fourth-innings run-chase in Tests, and their tenth such score in excess of 200. Sehwag provided crucial starts in both the innings but it was Sachin Tendulkar who held the innings together with effortless cover drives, fierce cuts through backward point and clever singles and doubles in the fourth innings. A responsible and well-paced innings of 76 saw him become the first cricketer on planet to register 15,000 runs. He also overtook Rahul Dravid as highest run-getter in fourth innings of Test matches and surpassed Dilip Vengsarkar as the highest run-getter at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
The fact that the same West Indian bowling line-up destroyed the Indian batting order for 209 in their 1st innings increased the momentousness of the innings. His crucial partnership of 71 with a wristy VVS laxman (58*), who completed 1000 runs in chases, including an eighth score of fifty or more, won the match for the home side making it their third successful run chase after 406 and 387 against West Indies and England respectively.
Incomprehensive: The fact the Indians allowed a 95-run lead against a modest West Indian side on the home turf with a muscular batting line-up made the victory uncertain and incomprehensive, but still it was a confidence booster following the dreadful English debacle!
In the end it was India’s experience that won the match and West Indian grit that won the hearts!
This post is by our Guest Sports Blogger Jigar Mehta.