All the specialists who got out would have been kicking themselves even as Dravid made his way to his fifth century after his 38th birthday, behind only four men on that count, all of whom finished before he started. India won the toss on an easy-paced track, and all their batsmen looked good before three of them found fielders with their attacking shots. Dravid and Laxman, though, didn’t seem in any mood to let this opportunity pass, and added 140 for the fourth wicket at a rate of four per over, which matched up to the rest of the innings.
A lot about this day didn’t seem right. The Eden Gardens stands were empty on the Monday morning, West Indies were bowling and the keeper came up to the stumps in the fourth over, and the deep point went back at the same time. However, the defensive fields failed to exercise much control: the 47th over was the first maiden of the innings.
The bowlers’ failure to match those defensive fields with accuracy, the batsmen’s willingness to take risks, and a lightning quick outfield worked as a team. From the moment they lost the toss West Indies seemed resigned to what Darren Sammy called “a disciplined” effort. It showed in how Kemar Roach, replacing the sick Ravi Rampaul, wasn’t even given the new ball. Not that Sammy made any difference to the kind of start that was expected. Sehwag drove and pushed his first over for fours after Gambhir had driven Fidel Edwards for four in his first.
In his next over Sammy asked Carlton Baugh to call for his helmet and sent the point fieldsman to the boundary. Still Sehwag and Gambhir hit a boundary each. The two added 66 in 12 overs before Sehwag got too adventurous. With the mid-on back he tried to drag Sammy over midwicket, but couldn’t find the elevation. After that wicket, Gambhir settled down a bit. He respected the spinners a bit before taking the risks. One of the risks was when he drove in the air and wide of mid-off, the other a loft off Devendra Bishoo over midwicket. The second of those took him to 48 off 76, and his first half-century against West Indies duly arrived.
After lunch, coinciding with the control on run flow, Gambhir drove in front of his body and picked out short cover. Seventeen runs had come in the previous six overs. Tendulkar got off with trademark boundaries, a flick through square leg, and a drive between mid-off and extra cover. Two more hit-me deliveries arrived, and he was 20 off 28. As he slowed down to take breath, West Indies created two chances against him: Bishoo didn’t get an lbw call his way, and a bat-pad off Sammy fell between the desperate keeper and bowler.
Soon, though, Tendulkar toe-ended a long hop, and the crowd, which had grown to a slightly more impressive number since the morning, lost its voice. That brought out the most prolific batsman at Eden to start a partnership with the man just behind him. Dravid was already in the middle of a well-paced innings. The sight of Dravid usually brings respite to the bowling sides when he is following a rampant Sehwag, but here he began with a couple and a four in the first over he faced. Soon he was 18 off 16, having hit four fours, one of which was a punch against the turn of Marlon Samuels, deliberately in front of square to beat deep point.
At 37 off 53, he had hit seven boundaries. Then followed that tighter session – 80 runs as opposed to 132 in the first – and two wickets at the other end. He didn’t hit another boundary for the next 100 balls he faced. Still, those 100 balls brought him 41 runs and involved the 15 minutes before tea when he and Laxman remained cautious. In the 68th over of the innings, Dravid lofted Bishoo over mid-off for the 20th six of his career.
By then Laxman too had moved on from his 1 off 15 to 30 off 47 through some Laxman shots. The milestones came up without fuss. Dravid reached his fifth century of the year, level with his best year in terms of centuries, 2002, with a flick past square leg. Laxman brought up his eighth score of 50 or more in his 10th Eden Test with a well-placed couple deep on the on side. That shot was also indicative of his innings, of how he kept finding gaps through the defensive fields. Dravid went on to celebrate with the 21st six of his career, this time a slog-sweep off Samuels.
Just before stumps, though, he gifted youngster Kraigg Brathwaite with a wicket when he went back to a cut a fullish delivery. Not yet sated, he went back with disgust on his face. Inexplicably India sent out a nightwatchman. Ishant Sharma lasted only one ball, but in pure technical terms he did his job as bad light made sure there was no further play.