West Indies 107 for 1 (Brathwaite 53*) trail India 353 (Ashwin 118, Saha 104, Rahul 50, Cummins 3-54, Joseph 3-69) by 246 runs
India lost their first five wickets for 126 and their last five for 14, but between the two collapses R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha added 213 runs to save them the blushes. Ashwin scored his fourth century, all against West Indies and two in this series, and Saha attacked his way to a maiden Test century, which countered West Indies’ plan to keep India from scoring freely on a slow outfield.
The day, though, belonged to West Indies, whose new opening combination of Leon Johnson and Kraigg Brathwaite followed the bowling charge with a stand greater than all their earlier opening partnerships in this series put together. Brathwaite ended the day unbeaten on 53, with West Indies still 246 behind, which could take some time coming on the slow outfield. After 234 runs on the first day, the second day produced 226 for six wickets.
India’s theoretical dislike of slow scoring, and some of the selections in Virat Kohli’s Test team might leave you worried for the future of old-fashioned Test batsmen, but Saha and Ashwin continued to bat for the tribe after the rescue job on day one. While Ashwin, resuming on 75, gave India the solidity, it was Saha who played with intent against a limited West Indies attack happy to play the defensive game. Saha added 58 off 105 balls to his overnight 46 even as West Indies kept it tight at the other end.
The first hour of the day replicated what happened for long periods on the opening day. West Indies stacked up one side of the field, and their strike bowlers spent their energy bowling on that side of the wicket, hoping for impatient shots from the batsmen. None of that arrived.
The intent came in the second hour with Saha taking risks and Ashwin taking only what came his way, understandable given he was approaching a hundred. Saha’s effort on the second morning was a repeat of his approach on the first day: against disciplined bowling, Saha had scored 1 off the first 34 balls he faced, 8 off the first 65, and then opened up to end the opening day on 46 off 122; when he came back on Wednesday he scored just 6 off the first 31 balls he faced, but then drove Alzarri Joseph through cover for the first boundary of the day, in the 10th over of the morning.
After drinks the clear plan seemed for Saha to have a go and disrupt West Indies from their plan of taking time out of the game. Sixty-one came in the second hour as opposed to 21 in the first. Saha was at the forefront, hitting all of the first five boundaries of the day. The third of those, a slog off Roston Chase, the offspinner, took him to his personal best, 64. The fourth took the partnership to 150. In the 21st over of the morning, Ashwin cut away from his body and got his first boundary of the day, moving to 99.
Even as Ashwin stayed on 99, Saha raced away from 77 to 93 by the time the players went off for their second meal of the day. In the last over before lunch, though, Shannon Gabriel caught Saha on the bare forearm with a short ball. Saha came back with a swollen elbow, but both the batsmen duly reached their centuries with Saha becoming only the fourth India wicketkeeper to score an away century. In the seventh over after lunch, Saha went to drive a really full delivery from Alzarri Joseph, edging it through to Shane Dowrich.
Now the West Indies pace attack charged at the tail with renewed vigour. Having waited 281 balls for his first Test wicket, Miguel Cummins took three in 10 balls: Ravindra Jadeja following an angling delivery, and Ashwin and Ishant Sharma fending at awkward short balls. In between the Cummins carnage, Gabriel came back to get a much-deserved second wicket, Bhuvneshwar Kumar caught at short leg.
That the quick bowlers were making the batsmen fend pointed to some life in the pitch, but only if you banged the ball in. The India bowlers – Bhuvneshwar and Mohammed Shami with the new ball – looked to nick the batsmen out. Shami took over Cummins’ poor luck; in the half hour before tea he drew an edge from Brathwaite that fell short, and one from Johnson was dropped by KL Rahul at third slip. By the time Rahul made amends with a direct hit from midwicket to run Johnson out, West Indies had put together their first fifty opening in 26 innings.
For the first time in the series Darren Bravo walked out after a good start, and batted with more assurance than earlier. Brathwaite brought out the discipline he is known for, waiting for loose balls, not minding having to run runs because of the slow outfield, breaking the monotony with a chip shot here or there, spending more than three hours at the wicket for his half-century. The closest India came to a wicket was indifferent running from Bravo and Brathwaite.