Rahul’s epic innings make it a big lead for India
For two sessions on the second day, the West Indies’ bowlers could not get past two batsman who understood the ebb and flow of Test cricket perfectly and set stall at the Sabina Park. Fast bowlers bent their backs, spinners did their bit, but the only thing that hampered KL Rahul was cramps. Rahul may be light on experience, but he is a mature batsman, and in the company of Cheteshwar Pujara, the runs flowed freely.
A couple of wickets in the final session brought some relief, but India still ended the second day of the second Test on 358 for 5, with a sizeable lead of 162 runs, building on Rahul’s highest Test score (158).
Rahul is not a showstopper in the Virat Kohli mould, but there is little inelegant about his batting. Tall at the crease, decisive with footwork and ever so easy on the eye when driving straight or through the offside, Rahul made the pitch look flat.
If Rahul was eliciting shrieks of delight from a sparse Sunday (July 31) crowd with his gorgeous shots, Pujara was fighting an internal battle. Pujara has made serious contributions in setting up Indian Test wins and scored some tough runs when other batsmen have struggled. But, at the moment he looks like the gnarled veteran whose mind is calling for shots that would have been second nature only a few years ago, with the body being unwilling to co-operate.
But Pujara is not closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Far from. Although the only real threats on the day came from Shannon Gabriel and Miguel Cummins, who each only delivered five-over bursts, Pujara batted in a bubble of his own, defending and concentrating on occupying the crease. What Pujara did not do through it all, however, was throw away his wicket. And, at the other end Rahul was scoring so freely that it barely mattered what pace Pujara scored at. Even the approaching milestone would not weigh Rahul down, his third Test hundred coming with a sweetly timed six over mid-on off Roston Chase. In his six-Test career Rahul has got past 16 only three times, and on each of those occasions he has converted, scoring centuries. What will also please the captain and coach is that all of Rahul’s hundreds have come overseas, each in a different country, showing that he has the skill, the temperament and the technique to adapt to different conditions.
By the time Rahul reached his hundred, Pujara had soldiered manfully on to 28 off 106 balls, only managing to find the fence twice. But with the bowlers unable to create enough chances, it took a bit of athleticism on the field for West Indies to break the 121-run second-wicket stand. Working Jason Holder to square-leg, Pujara set off for a quick single, realised he was struggling as Chase fielded the ball, and put in the dive at the non-striker’s end only to be defeated by a direct hit. After facing 159 balls for 46, it was an unfortunate end to Pujara’s innings, a lapse in judgment doing what the bowlers could not for more than four hours.
Kohli joined Rahul and the pace picked up appreciably. Despite needing treatment for cramps more than once, Rahul kept going, his romance with batting powering his hunger to make the most of the combination of opportunity and good form. When Rahul brought up his 150, the stage was well set for a truly big score, and Sunil Gavaskar’s mark of 236, the highest by an Indian against West Indies, was under serious threat.
But, cricket’s gods have a zany sense of humour, and Rahul fell on 158, trying to work an innocuous delivery to leg and feathering an edge to the ‘keeper. A disappointed Rahul had to go, but once he cooled off in the dressing-room he would have realised that he had more than done his job.
Rahul’s exit brought mild relief for West Indies, Kohli (44) popping a catch to forward short leg where Rajendra Chandrika stayed low and still and held onto the offering, and R Ashwin missing a full, quick one from Devendra Bishoo to be trapped in front.
As the shadows lengthened, Ajinkya Rahane (42 not out) and Wriddhiman Saha (17 not out) shut shop, taking India to stumps with a healthy lead with three days left to play.