India 234 for 5 (Ashwin 75*, Rahul 50, Joseph 2-38) v West Indies
On a day when India made questionable selections, one of the management’s moves in this series, the promotion of R Ashwin to No. 6, rescued them from 126 for 5. In testing conditions India left out Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay in favour of Rohit Sharma, whose inclusion led to a rejigged batting order.
While this apparent push for quick runs resulted in a batting failure, West Indies were not behind in making unusual moves. There was more purpose to their attack, after putting India in, than in the first two Tests. But when they should have looked to finish things off, they opted for the patience route, which cut down the runs thanks to a slow outfield. The wickets, though, came only through the batsmen’s impatience. KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane threw away starts with impatient shots, but Ashwin – dropped on 26 and caught off a no-ball on 35 – and Wriddhiman Saha soldiered on to keep India from imploding.
Ashwin and Saha, 46 off 122, added an unbeaten 108 for the sixth wicket. Another lower-order contribution was a continuation of a trend for India: on tough pitches in the home season, they recovered from 139 for 6 in Delhi, 125 for 6 in Nagpur, and 102 for 5 in Mohali.
The big comeback, though, was that of West Indies in the series. For the first eight days of the series they were pretty much outplayed. Moral victories and psychology can be terms abused in cricket, but the Jamaica draw might have caused damage in Indian heads that might have played a part in leaving them in tatters at tea in St Lucia. West Indies won the toss and utilised the conditions efficiently without being sensational, but India helped them out with their selections.
Having survived the Jamaica Test, West Indies mounted a fresh challenge against this unsteady Indian batting line-up – a different top three in each Test – by taking wickets when the pitch was fresh and then choking India out with disciplined bowling. Rahul and Rahane, the only specialist batsmen to reach double figures, helped India recover from 19 for 2 but fell in soft manner just before the two session breaks, Rahane to a full toss to end his slowest Test innings of 10 or more.
The second of the wickets was the highlight. Debutant Alzarri Joseph, who impressed with his pace and his bowling mechanics in only his ninth first-class match, nicked out Virat Kohli with the new ball, a promotion in the order because of the selection of Rohit. West Indies’ resistance and the resultant draw in Jamaica led to three changes for India, two of them expected, Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in for Amit Mishra and Umesh Yadav.
The batting selections were instructive. At the toss, Kohli, who would have batted if he had won the toss anyway, emphasised that Rohit can change a match in a session. Both Vijay, who was fit after missing the Jamaica Test, and Pujara are reputed to be slower scorers. Turns out India might have misread the pitch or underestimated the attack: the situation asked for the patience of Vijay and Pujara. Moreover, Kohli and Rahane had to give up their familiar batting positions.
West Indies were more aggressive to begin with. They added Joseph to the attack, and peppered India with short deliveries. The moisture in the pitch gave them spongy bounce when they pitched short, and some seam movement when they pitched it up. Shikhar Dhawan wasted little time in falling to a short ball, tickling Shannon Gabriel down the leg side.
Kohli walked in at No. 3, but the fresh pitch with the new seaming ball was not suited for his style of play: soon he shaped up to cut a Joseph delivery that was neither short nor wide, neither full nor close enough to him. Kohli was eventually done in by the extra bounce, but playing such deliveries you get away on pitches like the one in Antigua or against the old ball. A bit of a repeat of his England dismissals brought in India’s most reliable batsman, Rahane.
It was Rahul who weathered most of the initial storm. After an ordinary start – missing five of the first 11 balls he played at – he punished every error in length. Every time West Indies overpitched, Rahul drove hard, even in the air. Short and wide deliveries were cut away. It didn’t matter that the good ones in between kept beating him. On a day that the rest of the team scored 169 runs, Rahul took 50 off only 65 balls. Having done the hard work, Rahul fell 18 minutes before lunch, trying to whip a shortish delivery from Roston Chase straight to the man who had just moved to short fine leg.
West Indies came back attacking in the second session. Soon Rohit fell in typical manner, pushing defensively at a Joseph outswinger a set of stumps outside off. After that wicket, though, perhaps because the pitch had settled down, West Indies began to test India’s patience. It worked: minutes before tea, Rahane, seeing release in a Chase full toss, swept down the wrong line and was bowled for 35 off 133. That didn’t result in taking off the part-time spin of Kraigg Brathwaite.
The middle session produced just 43 runs for two wickets, and instead of going for the wickets of the lesser batsmen West Indies began with Jason Holder and Chase in the final session. On another day, persisting with these tactics might have worked but West Indies made two crucial mistakes. When Ashwin left the crease in impatience, inside-edging Chase, Leon Johnson missed him at short leg. When West Indies looked to break the monotony, Gabriel bowled a short ball from round the wicket for a catch at point, it turned out he had cut the return crease with his back foot.
Other than that, Ashwin and Saha showed remarkable patience. Because of the slow outfield West Indies could have a stacked field. Chase often bowled with a six-three leg-side field, leaving point open and bowling into the pads. Any scoring was now fraught with risk, and if he dropped the ball short the slow outfield cost him just the one run. India were in no state to take risks so the two batsmen put their head down, and kept picking whatever singles or twos were on offer.
Between the fall of Rahul and the claiming of the second new ball, only 111 runs came in 61.3 overs. Against the new ball, having done the hard work, the two batsmen chanced their arms. An edge fell short here, another flew over slips there; a crisp drive was misfielded now, a bowler bowled a loose ball there, and India had 46 in the last nine overs to wrest the initiative a bit. India dropped solid batsmen for quick runs when they should have been weathering the new ball out, then they were forced to bat slowly when they should have been capitalising on the older ball and tired fielders, and finally the lesson of building long Test innings was delivered by the lower order whose first role in the team is not batting.