Jaspreet Sahni: In cricket, some days are like the stuff of fairytales.
New Delhi: In cricket, some days are like the stuff of fairytales. Saturday was one such day, when India and West Indies didn't know what lay ahead: a drab draw or a thrilling win. But on some days, a win is not as satisfying; especially when a draw unfolds off the last ball in cricket's ignored form – Test cricket.
That's exactly what transpired on the last day of the third Test between India and West Indies. It's difficult to script such days in Test cricket and to cherish that, we try to bring you the key moments that made November 26, 2011, a day in the sun for Test match cricket.
West Indies in a spin
A Test that appeared to be meandering to a draw burst to life in confounding manner as West Indies lost eight wickets for 53 runs in 140 balls and 95 minutes. The heroes of the morning were India's new-found spin twins – Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin – who shared all the wickets to fall. After Ashwin in the first innings, it was Ojha's turn to take another five-for, which ended at 6 for 47. Ashwin gobbled up the other four, and a target of 243 in 64 overs nicely whetted India's appetite.
The three overs before lunch went off sanely but once the Indian openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag returned, Windies went into hiding. India's first fifty was raised in just ten overs and though it sounds slow by Sehwag's standards, Darren Sammy knew the Indian dasher could make a mockery of his best of plans.
Sammy's fears came true when - despite Gambhir's casual dismissal after lunch - Sehwag raced to his fifty in 61 balls, punctuated with seven boundaries, to lead India's run-chase.
The afternoon stutter
At 101 for 1, India were cruising. Sehwag on 60, with Rahul Dravid for company, was in a different zone when the stone-faced Devendra Bishoo – spinning the ball in his palm – ran in. Bizarrely, Sehwag attempted a reverse paddle-sweep – if there is such a shot - and the resultant leading edge lobbed to short fine-leg to present West Indies an opening when none was in sight.
From here, India's innings took a plunge for the worse, largely due to the batsmen's imprudence than the bowlers' intelligence. Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid all fell in the space of 12 runs to make it 113 for 4. While Sehwag can look back ruefully at a stupid shot, Dravid was guilty of playing a flick in the air not long after India had lost two quick wickets.
With those strikes, jaws in the crowd started to drop. India's chase was beginning to turn into a fight for survival, unless Virat Kohli, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni and the rest had other ideas.
A partnership! That was the keyword if India had to make a match of it after the mini collapse. Kohli and Laxman had taken over the driving wheel and to the crowd's delight, the duo started milking the visitors, with Kohli showing glimpses of his aggression in between.
Laxman's experience and Kohli's youthful exuberance took India to 148 for 4 at tea, with the target less than 100 runs away. Hopes had been re-instilled when the two walked back after the break. The score moved steadily but could reach only as far as 165 when another rash shot came about.
Laxman tried to pull a bouncer from outside off, well aware that it was not part of his arsenal. He ended up getting a top edge that was lapped up at mid-on. However, the 52-run partnership had put India's chase back on track.
Dhoni fails to fuel the chase
Dhoni, who has orchestrated many a run-chases with his controlled aggression, failed to deliver. Kohli needed someone to stay with him, a batsman who could play his strokes and also run the quick ones and twos. Dhoni was tailor-made for that but by playing on the up on a fifth-day track too early in his innings, he perished.
19 runs away, Kohli departs
Kohli, in the company of first-innings centurion Ashwin, then took over – hogging as much of the strike as he could. But just when the sniff of victory grew stronger – after some time-wasting display by West Indies – Kohli top-edged a cut shot that flew to a limping Sammy in the short third-man area.
The twist in the tale, though not for the faint-hearted, was doing tremendous service to the game's purest format. The ground seemed to be bubbling with an ODI-like atmosphere, which was so refreshing to watch in a Test match.
The home-straight dash
Three needed. Six balls left. Two wickets in hand. In a Test match. An unimaginable Test script. Varun Aaron on strike and the West Indians surrounding him like a pack of wolves. A dab off the first ball and a crisp drive off the second, no run. Still three needed, but now in four balls. Next ball Aaron tried a heave-ho and the ball nearly took the paint off the leg stump before settling into Baugh's gloves. Three off three now.
Ashwin walked up to Aaron, no doubt instructed to connect on the next ball. That he did, to mid-off where Samuels fumbled and allowed the two to scurry for a single. Now it was up to Ashwin. Needing two off two, the next ball thudded into Ashwin's pads, but off an inside edge, which was enough for the umpire to turn down the appeal. But more importantly, no run.
It was a last-ball finish now. Sammy walked up to Edwards to add tension to the finish. Ashwin, who had a welcome calmness about him, hit the ball to long-on. Aaron ran like a gazelle, but while he had completed a run-and-a-half, Ashwin was still touching down at the other end. The throw came in and by the time Ashwin chose to run back, it was too late. One run, scores level and a thrilling draw.
What an advertisement for Test cricket!