Whereas Laxman’s wizardry at the Eden is well established, Mahendra Singh Dhoni took baby steps towards making this his own favourite hunting ground too, ending a 19-match streak without a Test hundred in fairly breathtaking fashion.
The captain and his most trusted aide joined hands to bat the West Indies out of the second Test, muscling India to a position of tremendous authority when bad light ended play prematurely, with 12 overs still left to play.
A 17th century by Laxman (176 n.o., 394m, 280b, 12x4), Dhoni’s fifth three-figure knock and their remarkably untroubled 224-run seventh-wicket alliance helped India translate their overnight 346 for five to a massive 631 for seven when the skipper applied closure. In fading light, the tired minds and limbs of the West Indian openers failed to respond to a demanding passage, the visitors slumping to 34 for two at close.
Having witnessed from close quarters the brilliance and dexterity with which Laxman and Dhoni manipulated their own bowlers, Adrian Barath and Kraigg Brathwaite were in a no-win situation when they came out to bat. Barath was snared by a beauty from Umesh Yadav that left him late, though Brathwaite, dropped on 15 by Virat Kohli at short leg off R Ashwin, was slightly unfortunate to be adjudged caught in the same position off the same bowler by Gautam Gambhir when there was no contact between bat and ball.
The rub of the green generally tends to go the way of the dominant team, as was evident in the morning when Dhoni (144, 181m, 175b, 10x4, 5x6) nicked Kemar Roach twice in two overs to wicket-keeper Calrton Baugh, only to be reprieved both times because the bowler had over-stepped. 13 during the first let-off and 16 during the second, the Jharkhandi made the West Indies pay a heavy price.
Laxman began with the same fluency of the previous evening when play resumed on Tuesday, even as Yuvraj Singh looked horribly out of place. The Punjab left-hander did nothing to suggest that he has cracked the Test match conundrum, all at sea against the pace of Roach and Fidel Edwards even on a track as slow as this one.
His chancy stay was ended by a marginal leg before decision in favour of Darren Sammy, but West Indies’ joy was short-lived as Dhoni made the most of his good fortune to kick on in Laxman’s company. Briefly, but only briefly, Laxman’s control deserted him during Yuvraj’s travails. With Dhoni’s arrival, he was back in his elements, picking off the gaps at will, working the wrists with increasing frequency and toying with the bowling on his way to a record-equalling fifth century – as many as fellow Hyderabadi Mohammad Azharuddin -- at the Eden, but only his first in 16 Tests.
Dhoni’s hundred-less streak stood at 19 Tests, his last three-figure knock an unbeaten 132 against South Africa, made also at the Eden. On that instance, he and Laxman had put on 259 for the unseparated seventh wicket. This time, the duo added 224 (181m, 307b) as the West Indies wilted under the onslaught, finding Laxman’s unhurried approach and Dhoni’s complementary brazen assault too hot to handle.
The captain was clearly the dominant partner, a big bat, a pronounced bottom-handed approach and powerful forearms depositing the ball deep into the well-populated stands. From looking for wickets at the start of the day, Sammy was left trying to delay the rate of scoring, but even with leggie Devendra Bishoo bowling a negative, round-the-stumps line, India scored 180 runs in the post-lunch session with Dhoni mocking the length of the boundaries.
The declaration, slightly curiously timed in that it came a quarter hour after tea and not even immediately after Dhoni’s dismissal, left Laxman unconquered with a century against his name for the third straight Test innings at the Eden. Stunning, really!
As stunning was the delivery Yadav produced to dismiss Barath, and the turn and bounce Ashwin procured with a newish ball. Wednesday should be fun and games.
INDIA (I Innings, O/n: 346/5):
Gambhir c Barath b F Edwards 65
(146m, 103b, 8x4)
Sehwag c Barath b Sammy 38
(64m, 33b, 8x4)
Dravid b Brathwaite 119
(295m, 207b, 9x4, 2x6)
Tendulkar c Samuls b Bishoo 38
(75m, 71b, 5x4)
Laxman (not out) 176
(394m, 280b, 12x4)
Ishant c Baugh b Roach 0
Yuvraj lbw Sammy 25
(51m, 35b, 5x4)
Dhoni c Baugh b Roach 144
(181m, 175b, 10x4, 5x6)
Ashwin (not out) 4
Extras (B-5, LB-6, W-2, NB-9) 22
Total (7 wkts decl, 151.2 overs) 631
Fall of wickets: 1-66 (Sehwag), 2-149 (Gambhir), 3-205 (Tendulkar), 4-345 (Dravid), 5-346 (Ishant), 6-396 (Yuvraj), 7-620 (Dhoni).
Bowling: F Edwards 22.2-1-81-1 (nb-1), Sammy 25-0-132-2 (w-1), Roach 26-1-106-2 (w-1, nb-6), Samuels 27-0-104-0, Bishoo 45-2-154-1 (nb-1), Brathwaite 6-0-43-1 (nb-1).
WEST INDIES (I Innings):
Barath c Sehwag b Yadav 1
Brathwaite c Gambhir b Ashwin 17
(34m, 31b, 2x4)
K Edwards (batting) 12
(32m, 32b, 1x4)
Bravo (batting) 4
(3m, 5b, 1x4)
Total (for 2 wkts, 12 overs) 34
Fall of wickets: 1-3 (Barath), 2-30 (Brathwaite).
Bowling: Pragyan Ojha 6-2-10-0, Umesh Yadav 1-0-3-1, R Ashwin 5-2-21-1.