Jamie Alter: The most gripping and captivating day\'s play happened to be the last of the series.
New Delhi: Take a breath, sit back and try to comprehend what has happened on the final day at the Wankhede Stadium. Seventeen wickets, 295 runs and a draw. An epic, manic, soul-sapping draw that few could have envisioned. Can any other game end without a result after five days? Can Twenty20 and one-day cricket provide such endings?
This was Test cricket at its best. That there was no winner was fitting, for both teams fought tooth and nail in an attempt to win. They displayed immense character. There were heroes, no losers. Ravi Rampaul, Fidel Edwards, Pragyan Ojha, R Ashwin and Virat Kohli were the key players on a frenetic day. Without Ojha and Ashwin's wickets in the morning, there could have been no option for India to push for a win. Without Kohli's cool innings, India could have folded. Without Rampaul and Edward, West Indies could have lost.
Alas, the most gripping and captivating day's play of the series happened to be the last of the series. This was the sort of day the contest had begged for, a day full of drama, tension, application, belief, good bowling, good batting and bad batting, misfields, appeals, a day that showcased Test cricket’s most endearing aspect – unpredictability.
As final days go, this was about as enthralling as they come. There were shades of Adelaide 2003 – when Australia gifted Ajit Agarkar wickets with some dreadful strokes – and Adelaide 2006 – when England, from 59 for 1 over, night, lost nine wickets for 60 in 42 panic-stricken overs. Here, eight wickets for 53 runs in 140 balls and 95 minutes so nearly doomed West Indies to a devastating defeat.
Before we begin to dissect, let's clear one thing: this was not a 134 all-out pitch. That West Indies subsided abjectly this morning was down to a combination of reckless batting and tight, aggressive spin bowling from India's head-turning spin duo. Ojha and Ashwin displayed tremendous hunger by taking eight wickets in the morning, aided by some brainless strokeplay.
Ojha, a dominating influence through the series, was again the one to trigger events that saw West Indies collapse swiftly when the pressure heightened. After his first-innings haul of 1 for 126, Ojha had appeared to be drifting just a little but he bounced back with a stunning effort. In taking four wickets for 20 runs in 12 overs on Saturday, Ojha became the first spinner in Test history to take a five-wicket haul with the new ball.
Backing him up today was Ashwin, who kept attacking the stumps to take 4 for 34. He and Ojha were at the batsmen, giving away little, and always creating pressure. Ojha's dismissal of Bravo – teasing him with flight to produce a drive which resulted in a caught-and-bowled – and Ashwin’s of Baugh – tossing it up and getting it to spin through the gap – were classic examples of smart spin bowling.
Chasing 263 in 64 overs, India made a fist of it – resulting in some silly dismissals - and in doing so gave Test cricket the kind of play it needs. This team copped a lot of flak for not chasing down 180 from 47 overs in Dominica earlier this year, and that could have been at the back of their mind today. West Indies can thank Rampaul and Edwards that they didn’t lose.
Rampaul's three wickets – VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma – kept West Indies in the game. They were out of the contest without him. At tea on the final day, all results were possible. The session began in jittery fashion for India – there were inside edges and a run-out chance – and when Laxman departed to a poor pull shot, they still needed 78. When Dhoni was held at short cover, the target was 54 in 14.2 overs. With two strikes, Rampaul had kept the match on an even keel.
And then, in the penultimate over of the Test, he stepped up again. With West Indies defending six runs and searching for three wickets, Rampaul allowed three while taking out Ishant. After bowling a lovely yorker on the fourth ball, he delivered a peach: short of a length, cutting back in to hit leg stump.
Then it was over to Edwards. India needed two runs, West Indies two wickets. First ball, Varun Aaron slashed and missed; second, driven straight to short cover; third, a heave and another miss; fourth, a harried single to mid-off where Marlon Samuels fumbled; fifth, an inside edge onto Ashwin’s pads as he played the ball back; and sixth, a single to long-off who returned a throw to the wicketkeeper as Ashwin was run out coming back for a belated second. Apart from smashing the stumps in two deliveries, Edwards did all he could. It was only the second time a Test had been drawn with the scores level with one side chasing for a win.
If both sides are left to rue anything, for West Indies it will be the misfields and for India that Virender Sehwag, Laxman and Kohli did not finish the game. In the days to come, let’s hope that the blame does not fall on Kohli or Ashwin for it would be a huge injustice to the way they played today. Kohli’s superb 63 outdid his renowned seniors; Ashwin's nerve ensured India did not collapse after Kohli. Yes, Ashwin should have pushed harder for the second off the final ball, but let's not forget that he played a big role in giving this Test an hour of almost intolerable tension. For a No. 8 batsman in his debut series, he was not even supposed to be doing this role; that should have been the work of the established batsmen. After a century in the first innings, and nine wickets in the match, Ashwin was the deserved Man of the Match. His efforts should not be devalued by criticism of his running.
The scorecard will show that on November 26, 2011 India and West Indies drew a Test. Only those who watched it unfold can attest to the drama it threw up.