The past seven days have seen some truly remarkable Test cricket being played across the globe. Now that is something you don’t often get to hear in the current scenario wherein Test teams are either severely mismatched or are heavily dependent upon the conditions that are on offer.
Pakistan and England have been involved in a hard-fought third Test at Edgbaston, whereas Sri Lanka have spun Australia to their first ever Test series loss against the island nation, coming back from being bowled out for a paltry 117 on the opening day of the series.
On a similar note, when Roston Chase combined with the West Indies lower-middle order to defy a 258-run deficit in the second innings of the second Test against India at Kingston, Jamaica, he not only broke the lopsided affair that the two teams had been involved in for the first eight days of the Test series but it also gave a new lease of life to the West Indies cricket team that has been grappling with a plethora of difficulties of late.
An innings defeat in the first Test and the possibility of another one in the following game loomed large at Stumps on Day 4 of a rain-affected game at the Sabina Park. Whether or not Virat Kohli should have declared earlier on Day 3, especially considering the weather prediction that had rain lurking around for Days 3 and 4 is still debatable, but that takes nothing away from the fact that the hosts were required to bat out three full sessions of play on Day 5 – the weather had cleared by then – and they had just six wickets in hand.
The prelude: Blackwood in the first innings
India could manage only two wickets on Day 5, after getting 4 in the span of 15.5 overs that were possible on Day 4. But, the prelude to what happened on the final day of the Test as laid on the first day itself, wherein Jermaine Blackwood, someone who has always been rated highly in the Caribbean but hasn’t quite done enough justice to the reputation, amidst the carnage that ensued at the other end, played some exceptional positive cricket to smash a run-a-ball 62 with 7 fours and 4 sixes.
The conditions were overcast, Ishant Sharma had grabbed back to back wickets to rattle the West Indies top order, and the West Indies were reduced to 7/3 in 6 overs. It was then that Blackwood got the companionship of a West Indies veteran (despite having played just 66 Tests in 16 years) Marlon Samuels.
While Samuels was waiting for the shine to disappear and was leaving the ones outside his off stump, with occasional prods and misses, Blackwood was in with a different mindset. The 24-year-old took his chances early on, and through some early boundaries, made the Indian bowlers to bowl to his strengths.
The over-cautious approach that had harmed the Windies in the previous Test as well was shoved to the corner, as Blackwood used his feet against the spinners, who were given the relatively new ball, taking both Ravichandran Ashwin as well as Amit Mishra to the cleaners.
The use of the feet, something that none of the West Indies batsmen had put to practice in the series, was done to good effect, as the flighted deliveries were lofted for long sixes, before a prodigiously turning off-break, with the necessary dip on it, beat his bat and hit him in front of middle and leg stumps. That was turning too much to be given out, as the hawkeye later suggested – just kissing the top of leg stump – but umpire Aleem Dar had other reasons.
Blackwood made 62, a skittle ensued thereafter, as it had before his arrival, and the West Indies were bowled out for 196. However, for the time Blackwood was there at the crease, the Indian bowlers were pushed to the backfoot, probably for the first time in the series. All of a sudden, the bowling changes had become too frequent – four of them between the 6th and the 26th over – and there was at least a boundary hit all in the overs, except one, that the Indian fast bowlers bowled at him.
The fightback of magnanimous proportions
Perhaps it was this confidence, this feeling that the visiting bowlers can be tamed, that came back to help Blackwood and company in the second innings. At 48/4 in the second innings, still trailing by 258 runs, the writing is almost always on the wall. But somewhere, deep down inside, Blackwood, who was at the crease at Stumps on Day 4, knew that positivity was the only hope that his team had. In any case, the two attempts at a block-a-thon in the recent past had failed, and the West Indies chose the other form of defence – which was to attack.
This approach perhaps rubbed off on Roston Chase who was playing only his second Test and had already picked up a five-wicket-haul in the game. The extent to which it happened was spectacular. As opposed to the timid defence that was expected on the fifth morning, the Indian bowlers were smashed all around the park in the first session, that saw 167 runs been scored in 38 overs. Six boundaries and a six were scored in the first five overs of Day 5 forcing Kohli to use as many as four bowlers in the first six overs.
While Mishra was slapped through midwicket twice, Shami was driven through the off side as many times in two overs. The following over, a length ball on the pads of Blackwood was lofted straight over the bowler’s head for a six in a typical Caribbean T20 style.
The pacer was driven through mid-off when he changed his length to full on the following ball. Much hype and noise has been created these days about West Indies’ T20 approach to batsmanship, no matter what format they played. Well, they were doing the same yet again, and that too from a position they could easily surrender the game.
Two bowling changes were introduced at once – Ishant Sharma from one end and Umesh Yadav from the other. Blackwood, however, didn’t budge. Of the 16 overs that were bowled before the drinks break in the first session, only 6 didn’t have boundaries scored off them.
When Pujara pulled out a stunner at short leg, inches off the ground, to end Blackwood’s tyrannical run at the crease, West Indies were still 163 runs behind. But, what had transpired between the start of the day’s play and drinks had made the West Indies believe that they can save the game, and had it been a timeless Tests, perhaps even win it.
Chase’s well-timed Chase
For the manner in which Shane Dowrich and the captain Jason Holder batted around Chase, showed the confidence that the team had manufactured all of a sudden, within the span of a session. Chase, meanwhile, soldiered on and absorbed everything that Kohli could manage to throw at him.
Ashwin and Mishra bowled in tandem for the next 10 overs. The first plan was to bowl outside off, in order to get the batsmen driving, with a slip waiting for the outside edge, and a short leg for the bat-pad. Chase and Dowrich blocked everything, played closer to their bodies and with soft hands.
Shami was brought on thereafter. His short balls were pulled for boundaries and fuller ones were left alone. The deficit reduced to under 100 runs three overs before lunch. The slide, of the deficit mind you, continued thereafter as well, as now, even their fortunes seemed to be turning. Outside edges off angled balls on off stump flew through the gully region for boundaries whereas the short ones or the half-volleys were dispatched with disdain.
Dowrich brought up his fifty. When the spinners came on again, teasers outside off either fell short of the fielders close by or too far away from the men in the outfield. The West Indies were riding their luck.
The bowlers were getting tired. They were bowling short ones and wide ones, both of which were being severely dealt with. By the time Ian Gould gave Shane Dowrich out leg-before, after he failed to pick up the inside edge off which the ball had deflected onto the pads, the deficit was under 20 runs and Chase was only 1 run short of his maiden Test hundred.
The inevitable happened, and Kohli’s words of frustrated agony perhaps fuelled Chase even more. By tea, the West Indies were leading by 15 runs.
West Indies’ moral victory
From 4 wickets in 15 overs, the Indians were down to 2 wickets in thrice as many overs. But the game wasn’t done. The West Indies had driven the hosts to a state of hopelessness. It is one thing that you lose, but it is a completely different thing when you’re beaten out of the contention to win, by a side you had absolute control over for the first 4 days of a Test. Holder scored a consolatory fifty as well, perhaps to add a cherry to their cake. They haven’t had too many cakes in the recent past.
Chase was unbeaten on 137, Dowrich made 74 while Holder returned alongside his long-term teammate, having scored 64. From 12 wickets in two consecutive innings, Ashwin had gone down to 1/114 off 30 overs. If West Indies fail to at least match up to this performance, if not better it, in the second half of the Test series, they’d be letting themselves go. But even if that happens, the fearless attitude of Blackwood and Chase would rub off on the team sooner or later.Published 06 Aug 2016, 16:31 IST