India have travelled some distance from the times when they were considered the poorest chasers in international cricket. If further proof was required of their growing stature as accomplished chasers, it came at the Feroze Shah Kotla on Wednesday.
Asked to scale down an imposing total to atone for a poor first-innings display, India reached their target in style and with a complete lack of panic, powering to 276 for five 32 minutes after lunch on day four of the first Test against the West Indies. Not for the first time, it was the experience and quality of their middle-order that stood them in great stead, the big boys all digging in to at least partially exorcise the demons of England.
Overnight 152 for two, 124 shy of going 1-0 ahead in the three-match series, India were hardly stretched despite the early dismissal of Rahul Dravid, bowled by a peach from Fidel Edwards. Sachin Tendulkar (76, 201m, 148b, 10x4) produced one of his more fluent knocks in recent times, even if there wasn’t to be a fairytale 100th hundred, while VVS Laxman again cocked a snook, gracefully, at those wanting experience to make way for youth with a stylish, authoritative, untroubled half-century.
The West Indies had all but given up hope after the Indian top four had laid a solid platform on the third evening, though Edwards’ mesmeric strike 14 minutes into the day revitalised them briefly. The little fast bowler with a big heart came up with a memorable display of fast bowling during a burst of 6-1-19-1, knocking Dravid over with a beauty that shaped away in the air, and then reversed in sharply on pitching to gush through the gate and knock off and middle pegs out.
The game had reached a flash point. Another wicket at that point could have set the cat among the pigeons, especially in light of India’s shaky recent batting form even if the Kotla strip had settled down into a good one for batting. That’s where Laxman’s positivity came through.
The Hyderabadi came up with a wonderful glance first ball that screamed to the fine-leg fence, and kept finding the boundary boards early on even as Tendulkar went into overdrive. Once the fourth-wicket duo had made sure that there would be no dramatics, the focus shifted to the little man, and whether he would keep his tryst with destiny.
The Master appeared in the mood. There was a surety of foot movement, a decisiveness in both defence and attack, that made for a wonderful spectacle. This was a true artist at work, his concentration unwavering, his focus and determination all too obvious. The West Indians threw everything at him, but on a relatively benign surface and with Tendulkar in such imperious touch, their best was a long way short of adequate.
Tendulkar’s driving was a real treat, the deliberateness with which he moved into the stroke and the dexterity with which he opened the face of the bat to persuade the ball into gaps a memorable lesson for a spell-bound gathering which included Laxman, now having moved into passive mode. The leg-spin of Devendra Bishoo, expected to be a threat, was systematically dismantled as the boundaries flowed freely, the target began to draw nearer, and the magical three-figure mark loomed large.
The collective groan of despair, disappointment and anguish, therefore, was understandable when Tendulkar missed a pull off Bishoo, and was struck palpably in front, Rod Tucker ruling him leg before for the second time in three days. A hush descended on the Kotla as the Mumbaikar trudged off, delight at having steered the ship to the brink of safe shores tempered by the denial of a hundred which appeared there for the taking.
His 71-run (78m, 100b) alliance with Laxman meant only the formalities were left to be completed because when Tendulkar fell, India were just 43 away from victory. Yuvraj Singh kept Laxman company until one was needed; fittingly, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in the middle when Laxman brought up the single that heralded India’s third highest successful chase ever and ended a run of six winless Tests.
WEST INDIES (I Innings): 304 all out in 108.2 overs
INDIA (I Innings): 209 all out in 52.5 overs
WEST INDIES (II Innings): 180 all out in 57.3 overs
INDIA (II Innings, O/n: 152/2):
Gambhir lbw Samuels 22
(47m, 32b, 3x4)
Sehwag b Sammy 55
(80m, 55b, 5x4, 2x6)
Dravid b F Edwards 31
(154m, 101b, 3x4)
Tendulkar lbw Bishoo 76
(201m, 148b, 10x4)
Laxman (not out) 58
(137m, 105b, 6x4)
Yuvraj b Sammy 18
(52m, 40b, 2x4)
Dhoni (not out) 0
Extras (B-1, LB-14, NB-1) 16
Total (for 5 wkts, 80.4 overs) 276
Fall of wickets: 1-51 (Gambhir), 2-95(Sehwag), 3-162 (Dravid), 4-233 (Tendulkar), 5-275 (Yuvraj).
Bowling: F Edwards 15-3-51-1, Rampaul10-0-34-0 (nb-1), Sammy 16-0-56-2, Samuels 16-0-57-1, Bishoo 22-2-56-1, Brathwaite1.4-0-7-0.