Two old nemeses turned up against India on the first day of the series. A typical slow and low Kotla track broke the bowlers' backs, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul continued his torture of Indian bowlers with his seventh century against his favourite opposition, making it two in the last two Tests. India, though, kept chipping away at the others with accurate spin bowling to make sure the honours were shared on the first day.
Chanderpaul drew support from a man who was two years old when he began using the bail to mark his guard. Kraigg Brathwaite, who became only the second West Indian to score two fifties before his 19th birthday, has similar reserves of patience, idolises Chanderpaul, and uses the bail to mark his guard. For 37 overs and 108 runs today, the youngest and the oldest members of the side did all that together. Except that the youngster played the old-fashioned watchful innings and Chanderpaul turned the momentum with quick runs. When the two came together at 72 for 3, West Indies had dug themselves a defensive hole and scored at 2.1 an over; the fourth-wicket partnership went at 2.9.
You couldn't quite blame the teams for the slow cricket, though. The third ball of the match didn't carry through to the wicketkeeper, and when it happened four more times in the next seven overs, this Test had attrition written all over it. Effort balls went through waist high, and strokes found little value because of the low bounce. Then India introduced spin in the 10th over. A combination of early turn and West Indies' defensive mindset produced early wickets, but once Chanderpaul started playing games with the bowlers' lines and lengths, the attrition was back.
On this pitch, Syed Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar would have been as effective as Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. When India bowl 91 overs in a day's play, it has to be either during a push for a win on the final day or when the pitch has nothing in it for the quicks. While the latter was true, the way the West Indies top order went into a shell the former didn't seem incorrect either.
Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards, who scored 29 off 80 balls between them, allowed Pragyan Ojha and debutant R Ashwin to bowl wherever they liked to. The spinners didn't have to worry about preventing runs, and what started as one slip and one short leg soon became a spinner's umbrella field. The result was a period of 14.3 overs that went for 20 runs and consumed both the men. Both fell to Ojha, whose figures then read 7.3-4-8-2. Darren Bravo tried to disturb that state of affairs, but gave R Ashwin his first Test wicket when he went manufacturing a cut off a length ball.
When Chanderpaul walked in, the man at the other end was going at the strike-rate he himself often does. He would have known if two men did that, sooner or later one will pop up to one of the many catching men. Thus began his shuffle, nurdles, deflections, late-cuts, chips, stolen singles, and two sixes down the ground. Mid-on and mid-off had been deep earlier too, sweeper-cover had been in place too, but the field looked much more porous now.
Three shots summed up Chanderpaul's effort. The second ball of spin he played he dragged it from outside off for a single through midwicket, and watching Chanderpaul bat it hardly looked unnatural. Later on in the piece, he moved well across into a wide delivery from Umesh Yadav, and it was like just the momentum of the shuffle and the wrists drove the ball between mid-off and extra cover. That four took him to 62, level then with Brathwaite, who was 30 when Chanderpaul walked in. In the next over, he danced down to Ojha, was beaten in the flight, but nonchalantly flicked him for his second six over long-on. Even if you beat him in the flight, you went for six.
Brathwaite might not have taken similar liberties, but was good at running the ball to third man or helping it around the corner on the leg side. Behind square on the off side he scored 26 runs, including four boundaries, all of them intentional. Ojha, though, continued his toil and finally got one to dip, which made Brathwaite drag his back foot as he tried to play the forward-defensive. It wasn't a big drag, nor did it take him long to get back, and he might have possibly survived with other keepers, MS Dhoni's no reverse-follow-through stumping left him no chance.
That was one fine way to reach 199 dismissals, beating Syed Kirmani's Indian record in 26 fewer Tests. No. 200 came soon when Marlon Samuels, always one to camp back against spin, edged a length ball from Ashwin. With two wickets for 20 runs, India now looked to build more pressure. Chanderpaul took 11 runs in the next over. Four overthrows followed in the next over, and Chanderpaul was in his nineties. With a gentle paddle sweep he matched Viv Richards' 24 centuries, and there hardly seemed any pressure.
Even as Carlton Baugh remained circumspect with stumps approaching, Chanderpaul made sure the sixth-wicket partnership of 56 runs chugged along at 4.1 per over. Chanderpaul walked back with Indian players rushing to shake his hand, and no one to nag him, telling him how to bat.