New Delhi: It is often said that the third day of a Test is the most crucial of a match. It wasn’t the case after West Indies surrendered eight wickets in the first session, but for the remainder of the day they somehow found the resolve to stave off India for good periods of time, lowering the margin of defeat.
India had claimed far too much ground in the morning to be seriously challenged, but the second and third sessions, when West Indies added 195 for the loss of three wickets, gave this contest the feel of a Test match. For West Indies, who, in the words of their manager, Richie Richardson, needed to show intent against spin, it was a minor victory.
After a frenetic morning session – eight wickets fell for 119 runs in 36 overs – the afternoon promised more of the same, and briefly after lunch it seemed as if the floodgates would remain ajar. Umesh Yadav removed Kraigg Brathwaite with West Indies still 455 runs in arrears, but MS Dhoni’s overtly defensive captaincy – he removed the third slip as early as the tenth over and stuck in a deep point – allowed the visitors to regroup. By spreading five men back on the ropes and sticking to one slip soon after, Dhoni protected the boundaries instead of going for wickets. It became an exercise in damage-limitation when there as no threat of damage.
For a while, India had to work hard on a sluggish surface. Yadav extracted Brathwaite, who looked at odds in this match, before a lengthy period of positive batting from Adrian Barath and Kirk Edwards ate up near on two hours. For the first time in the series, West Indies’ batsman defied India’s spinners, and that was refreshing as far as a contest went. Barath’s footwork was assured and he was quick to put away anything wide, with assurance. Pragyan Ojha was welcomed with two boundaries, inspiring Edwards to do likewise. Edwards, after some initial nerves, played with a straight bat and positive use of the feet. Ojha and R Ashwin were defended stoutly and when they went too full Edwards unfurled pretty drives. In Ojha’s fifth over he clattered a four and a six.
To West Indies’ batsmen goes the credit for thwarting Ojha and Ashwin, two spinners who had wrecked them in Delhi and contributed to their downfall in the first innings. To Ishant Sharma goes the credit for bowling two searching spells during the third session, each of which produced a wicket.
Shortly into the session he removed Barath, luring him into an airy drive. Then, in his most incisive spell, he delivered a very good delivery that pinned Edwards on the crease and had him lbw. Of the two wickets that he claimed today, the one that stood out was Barath’s. With spin not doing the job, and the ball old enough to offer some reverse swing, Ishant had repeatedly pushed Barath onto the back foot with his length and inward movement. Then he bowled a fuller one, outside off, which moved away just enough to draw the fatal edge.
Ishant beat the ball numerous times during his third and fourth spells during the final session, when the ball often kept low. He was rewarded for consistently making the batsman play, and picked up a second when Edwards’ resistance ended with a poor shot across the line. There was speed and accuracy combined with a hint of reverse swing; the line was spot on and the length generally impeccable.
Ishant has not been a menace during this series but he has, through his perseverance, been consistently at the batsmen. He has been used in short bursts, mainly, and left everyone perhaps yearning for a bit more. He has come on, bowled some threatening overs, not tried to bang the ball in too hard, experimented with pace and length, belted out a few appeals and gone back to the outfield. In the first innings, his spells read: 1-1-0-0, 4-1-14-0. In the second, 5-1-16-0, 5-1-15-1, and 4-1-10-1. He has not really been allowed time to work into a spell, one that allows him to gradually set batsmen up. That Ishant was able to keep the batsmen quite and deliver two breakthroughs speak of his attitude on an unresponsive surface.
At 195 for 3, West Indies have restored some pride but the match rests in India’s hands.