“Someone catch it! Jason Holder is underneath it, drops it!”
“..as if things weren’t bad enough”
Jeffrey Dujon and Ian Bishop were having a melancholic conversation in the commentary box, as Mohammad Shami and Amit Mishra had their own after party following Kohli’s 200 and Ashwin’s third hundred against the West Indies. This was as succinct as summaries go, and the gulf in quality was evident throughout the day. This is Test match cricket, and unless you have a marauding bowling attack, chances cannot go a-begging, in those rare instances they actually come up. Dropped catches were the norm, from the keeper and slip fieldsmen to outfielders running into skiers. Every time, West Indies fluffed up what could have been turning points in the game, and find themselves 535 runs behind, with 9 first innings wickets in hand.
India’s bowling attack, except for Ashwin, to an extent, are well rested and set for two full innings at a stretch, if that it was is needed to force a result, on this dead slow wicket at North Sound. In the 16 overs following their declaration at 566 for 8, India’s pacemen bowled with pace and control, peppering the openers with bouncers and a few that moved significantly in the air. As the pitch wears on, India’s two spinners, as different as chalk and cheese, are set to get sufficient enough purchase to trouble West Indies’ batting order. At least for now, this looks set to be a seemingly never-ending leather hunt for Holder’s men.
Starting off the day at 302 for 4, Kohli quickly got to his 150, as Ashwin rode his luck early on before coming on to his own. Against an attack with just one genuine pace bowler, it was easy to see why the runs flowed. Both batsmen had plenty of time, and Ashwin enjoyed himself with picture-perfect pull shots and deft touches to the third man fence.
In fact, at one point, with his score at 158, Kohli edged one past the vacant gully region for 4, and had a long, hard look at his bat. Usually, batsmen shrug as an acknowledgment of benefiting from a stroke of luck, a mis-step that could lead to disaster the next time. This time, though, Kohli nodded emphatically, indicating how nothing could have gone wrong with that shot. Slow pitch. Check. Ball coming on. Check. Military medium pace. Check. Resulting lack of carry. Double check and bingo.
Kohli soon got to his 200, the first by an Indian captain in the Carribean, and his new first-class peak. Following lunch, Shannon Gabriel had him without adding to the milestone, playing away and inside edging on to the woodwork. Ashwin, joined by Saha with the score at a comfortable 404 for 5, piled on the agony, getting to his own 100 off 236 balls – an innings he must take pride in, irrespective of the conditions and the attack. As he acknowledged in the post-day press conference, leaving so many outside off is an art, and for a frontline spinner to do it so well for hours at end, is a stupendous effort.
In the end, Holder had to call on the services of Kraigg Brathwaite – he of the 6 wicket haul in Colombo – to get some good old loopy off-breaks in, keep it tighter, and do what debutant Roston Chase wasn’t able to – pick up wickets. Brathwaite duly did, finishing with 3 for 65, and, if not for dropped catches, would have had a better economy rate than 4.38, a nod to some lusty hitting from Shami and Mishra towards the end. At 566 for 8, following Mishra’s dismissal for 53, Kohli declared, leaving his bowlers with an hour to bowl.
While Brathwaite was steady, waiting for the loose ball to punish, Chandrika was rattled by a couple of bouncers from Ishant Sharma. Shami, staying on the fourth stump line, duly got one that moved an extra couple of inches, taking the latter’s edge onto Saha’s welcoming hands. 31 for 1, and a stern test awaits West Indies’ middle order, which looks alright on paper – Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood can all put up big scores on their day. They won’t get too many better stages to come together and set up shop, against a side who have lived up to their tag of overwhelming favourites for this series.