Rahul, Ashwin makes it India’s day
India’s ascendancy in the West Indies continued as it took firm control of the proceedings at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday (July 30). Its fast bowlers fired on all cylinders, spinners asked plenty of questions and the batsmen bedded down for the long haul.
Having been invited to bowl in the second Test, despite the moisture on the surface, India was bang on target first up, Ishant Sharma leading the charge and Mohammed Shami constantly threatening to break through.
Ishant’s length was perfect, for the conditions, the full ball shaping in nicely to both opening batsmen. What added to his potency was the fact that he kept the ball on the stumps more often than not, making the batsmen play constantly before they got good measure of the conditions.
Kraigg Brathwaite was the first to go, unable to get on top of a lifter for which Ishant had two fielders on the leg side in position. Fending awkwardly, Brathwaite offered Cheteshwar Pujara the simplest of chances.
Darren Bravo got a dart from Ishant first up, the full ball delivered at pace and slanting away from the left-hand bat just enough to spear off a generous edge to be smartly caught by Virat Kohli in the slips cordon.
At 4 for 2 the West Indies was in deep trouble. It soon became worse, Rajendra Chandrika, playing at a ball from Shami that he should have left well alone. In the channel outside the off stump and seaming away, the thick edge flew to fine gully where KL Rahul snapped up the ball that was travelling at speed.
Two home boys, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood then got together to put up a stirring resistance. Samuels was the rock, blocking the bowlers with a tight technique, defying them through sheer will, picking up his first run as late as the 30th ball he faced. At the other end though, Blackwood, coming off a pair in the first Test, was all fire and brimstone. Whenever the ball was full, Blackwood took the bowling on, driving with Calypso panache that has rarely been on display all series. The bat described a fluent arc, the feet were planted squarely, the head still and the mind fearless, putting India’s bowlers under pressure.
Ishant was clobbered back over his head for a flat, straight six that was timing as well as brute musculature and Ashwin watched with bemusement as Blackwood casually shimmied down the pitch and deposited the ball into the stands over long-on. Blackwood hit as many as four sixes and seven fours in his stay at the crease, 52 of his run-a-ball 62 coming from boundaries alone. At the stroke of lunch, however, Ashwin broke through, a ball hurrying off the pitch and trapping Blackwood in front.
Blackwood’s departure forced Samuels to change gear and to his credit he did that well. Where earlier crease occupation was his sole aim, he now looked to be positive, the attacking shots creating doubts in the minds of bowlers and forcing them to rethink their initial plans. But, on 37, just when he looked like he would play the innings of substance, Samuels fell, a dipping beauty from Ashwin taking the inside edge and heading straight into the hands of the close-in fielder.
With a stiff breeze blowing across the ground and aiding drift at either end for both Ashwin and Amit Mishra, there were plenty of false strokes, a succession of appeals, but the West Indies was putting up some resistance.
The variety and class of the Indian attack, however, shone through, and when Ashwin and Rahul teamed up for yet another close-in catch, the West Indies was 158 for 9. The wicket also took Ashwin to his 18th five-wicket haul in just his 34th Test, pushing him ever closer to the 200 mark. For a spinner to pick up five wickets on the first day and put his team in charge was a matter of pride to Ashwin.
A bit of classic long-handle tail-end action between the last pair helped push the score along to 196.
Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan settled in quickly. Rahul played some pleasing shots, displaying the kind of poise that is rare in someone who has had a stop-start career.
The openers had added 87 at pace before a lapse in concentration led to Dhawan (27) playing an uppish shot to be caught off the slow bowling of Roston Chase. Fortunately for India, Rahul did not budge, helping himself to an unbeaten 75 as India ended on 126 for 1.
It was once again a case of an experienced team bossing over a weaker, less organised unit. Too many more sessions like this, and this series is headed only one way.