New Delhi: R Ashwin's six wickets, which gave him the second-best match haul for an Indian debutant, and quick runs from Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Sammy pulled the game in opposite directions to leave it in a state of delicate balance. India were left with 276 to get for a first win in seven Tests, which if managed would be their third-highest successful chase. Virender Sehwag then rudely shook this balance with his sixth half-century in chases, but Sammy pulled West Indies back with Sehwag's wicket, only for two highest run-getters in Test cricket and its fourth innings, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, to give India the edge with an assured partnership before stumps. (Also see: Who is Ravichandran Ashwin?)
India had every reason to feel good about the chase: they had built some momentum, and only one of the 10 wickets was a direct consequence of the pitch's misbehaviour. The first session of the day, though, looked like the continuation of an exercise in making the Kotla pitch look brutish. India had started it on Monday, losing 10 wickets for 120 runs, and on this slow track with low but manageable bounce, West Indies found a way to lose four wickets in the first hour. It could have been three wickets in the first three overs, but Ishant was denied one by the umpire and Ashwin failed to catch a half chance.
The beneficiaries, Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo, added 27 for the fourth wicket. Edwards played positively, hitting three fours in the first four overs of spin, but for some reason he chose to leave alone a straight delivery to give Umesh Yadav his maiden Test wicket. More uncertain cricket followed. Bravo thrust his pad forward to Ashwin and was trapped by one that didn't turn as much as expected. Ashwin then cleaned up Marlon Samuels with one of his first carrom balls in Test cricket. He uses that variation regularly in limited-overs cricket, but had hardly done it on Test debut until he got through the defence of Samuels.
A familiar thorn in the side remained, though. Chanderpaul began with two fours off the first two balls he faced, using wrists on both occasions to manipulate the off-side field. First he rolled them on the cut shot to beat the squarish third man, and then he pushed through a length ball, placing it to the left of point. Despite Carlton Baugh's careless dismissal, Chanderpaul kept scoring unaffected.
With an aggressive Sammy for company, Chanderpaul threatened serious damage. Ashwin, though, interrupted him three runs short of a fifty with an offbreak that didn't turn as much as he expected. It was a brave lbw decision by Rod Tucker, as this was bowled from over the wicket and pitched within the stumps, but proved to be correct because of the small degree of turn. Sammy, though, continued to exploit the open field set for him. He found the gaps for couples, hit a four with the field up, and in the most Caribbean of fashions drove Ishant for a six even with the field back. It took a straight Ashwin delivery that stayed low to get rid of Sammy, the first signs of pitch playing unmanageable tricks. Ravi Rampaul and Devendra Bishoo didn't throw it away, and added 23 for the last wicket.
Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir came out aggressive. A potentially game-changing moment arrived in the fourth over, when Sehwag was a touch early into a straight-drive, but Rampaul couldn't take the tough return catch to his right. India took 23 off those first four overs, but it would become challenging when pace would be taken off.
Sammy did so as early as the fifth over, and the openers went into the singles mode. Sehwag, though, didn't like the sight of Samuels that early in the innings, and drove him over extra cover for six. Even though Samuels came back with Gambhir's lbw, Sehwag continued to beat the slowness of the pitch. The fields were spread, the ball didn't come on, but Sehwag adjusted superbly to score behind square on the off side. The quicker balls he guided past slip, for the slower ones he arched back and used the wrists to impart power. Three of his five fours he hit there.
It wasn't all about behind square. He lofted Bishoo, the opposition's only specialist spinner, for a six over long-on in his first over. Quietly Dravid slipped into positive mode, too, driving two boundaries through midwicket and extra cover before Sehwag managed to reach a score of fifty in both innings of a match only for the fifth time in his career.
A typical slow-pitch dismissal followed when Sehwag chopped Sammy on. More control and interrogation was a natural expectation. Immediately West Indies bowled the first maiden of the innings. They could now have some control on where they bowled, but Tendulkar and Dravid remained resolute. Tendulkar avoided playing across the line, and made positive forward movements every time he could. Dravid scored only 17 off the last 73 balls he faced, and the partnership was worth only 57 off 25.5 overs, but the two were desperate to stay unbeaten in fading light, which they managed.
Just about. For two overs before stumps, running in classical Indian style, Dravid crossed the stumps without grounding his bat or his feet. A lazy bail and inconclusive replays saved him there, after which he berated himself. The reaction would have been much more severe had he been given out.