Batsmen give Windies solid launching pad

Top four players construct fifties
Last Updated 22 November 2011, 16:21 IST

Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t a great one for winning tosses, but this is one toss the Indian skipper would have desperately wished to win. Instead, Darren Sammy called right, and the West Indian batting cashed in clinical fashion on a Wankhede stadium featherbed on a sweltering, sultry Tuesday.

Admittedly, the Caribbeans were due some luck after having precious little to show for all the pluck they displayed in the first two Tests. They could have done without losing Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the final Test after the veteran failed to recover from a calf muscle strain, but in a wonderful exhibition of character and maturity, a young batting line-up made the first day of the third Test all its own.

A tally of 267 for two meant this was easily their best batting day of a series where they have promised much, but invariably flattered to deceive. The top four conjured half-centuries of varying kinds, driven by a common hunger that should stand them in good stead in time to come.

Adrian Barath mixed flair with caution, Kraigg Brathwaite was all about careful circumspection, Kirk Edwards sublime while driving down the ground and Darren Bravo a picture of authority and regal bearing as India wilted in the heat, putting down three catches and not creating too many opportunities.

With selection to the tour of Australia imminent, the hosts decided to test out Varun Aaron’s mettle, resting Umesh Yadav, and while the debutant was good in patches, he clearly has a long way to go. As has been his wont throughout this series, Ishant Sharma bowled beautifully without any fortune, while spinners R Ashwin – the only successful bowler – and Pragyan Ojha wheeled away, procuring a bit of turn and a bit of bounce but at a pace so pedestrian that the batsmen were in little trouble.

There’s no gainsaying what might have happened had the usually reliable trio of VVS Laxman, Dhoni and Rahul Dravid not grassed a catch each. Laxman’s was the least expensive because Brathwaite, reprieved at leg-gully on 57, didn’t make the most of the let-off. Dhoni and Dravid, however, were made to pay for their largesse. The Indian captain failed to get his gloves around a glance from Edwards off Virender Sehwag when the batsman was 29, while Dravid was too slow to react at slip when Bravo edged Ojha, the ball hitting him on the left thumb and allowing the left-hander to kick on from his then score of 33.

These moments of alarm apart, the West Indians were hardly troubled. Barath and Brathwaite began confidently against Ishant and Aaron, the former in particular always on the look-out for runs. The spinners were handled with rare confidence as the strike kept turning over, neither Ashwin nor the parsimonious Ojha allowed to settle into their groove.

Where Ojha effectively bottled one end up, Ashwin was always bound to go for a few considering that he wasn’t unafraid to buy his wickets. Support from the pacers was completely negated by the surface, even if Ishant did bowl one brilliant spell immediately after lunch when he procured some reverse swing but failed to initiate the breakthrough.

Barath and Brathwaite added 137 (213m, 317b) as the West Indies became the only team this year to piece together two Test century opening stands, but when Ashwin winkled both out to bat-pad catches in the space of 20 deliveries, a familiar tale appeared to be unfolding.

Fortunately for the visitors, the class of Edwards and Bravo shone through. Edwards’ driving down the ground was a sight for sore eyes, though he did become needlessly tentative with stumps approaching. Bravo, on the other hand, continued from his 136 of the previous innings, flattening the cover fence with crunchy strokes off the back foot whenever the bowlers erred in length.

The odd moment of uncertainty neutralised, the duo has ensured by putting on 117 (128m, 192b) and remaining unseparated that it will be around to see off the second new ball. There is the prospect that at some stage on Wednesday, the pitch might start to assist the bowlers a bit more. India have a fight on their hands, that’s for sure.

Score Board

WEST INDIES (I Innings):

Barath c Dhoni b Ashwin    62
(21m, 148b, 8x4)
Brathwaite c Kohli b Ashwin    68
(231m, 184b, 8x4)
K Edwards (batting)    65
(146m, 117b, 10x4)
Bravo (batting)    57
(128m, 98b, 7x4)
Extras (B-4, LB-10, NB-1)    15
Total (for 2 wkts, 91 overs)    267
Fall of wickets: 1-137 (Barath), 2-150 (Brathwaite).
Bowling: Ishant 17-6-33-0 (nb-1), Aaron 16-3-47-0, Ojha 26-7-55-0, Ashwin 27-2-86-2, Sehwag 3-0-23-0, Kohli 2-0-9-0.

(Published 22 November 2011, 03:54 IST)

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