Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid didn’t make it to triple figures, but Sachin Tendulkar was well on his way towards reaching the most talked-about milestone of the year.
West Indies didn’t declare overnight, allowing their final pair to bat on, and after 15 minutes of entertaining tail-ender swings, Devendra Bishoo was bowled by offspinner R Ashwin, who completed his second five-wicket haul in his debut series.
A typically quick start followed from India’s openers: Virender Sehwag routinely scything the ball through cover, and Gambhir poking the ball either side of point for runs. Gambhir was a touch loose to start with – chasing and missing several wide deliveries and surviving an early lbw appeal off Fidel Edwards – before getting more fluent.
Edwards and Ravi Rampaul bowled with aggression but there wasn’t much extra bounce or sideways movement to encourage them. West Indies resorted to a defensive field half an hour into the innings – seven fielders on the off side, with two of them in the deep in front of point.
It was the least pacy of the West Indian quicks, Darren Sammy, who snapped the opening stand at 67. He got one to slide past Sehwag’s inside-edge and hit the stumps, signalling with three fingers that it was the third time he had dismissed Sehwag in the series.
The tempo was predictably slower after Sehwag’s exit, and West Indies could have added to the advantage after lunch. Dravid seemed to have hurt his back after slipping when Gambhir turned down a single. Gambhir had a reprieve when he guided Sammy towards first slip, where Kirk Edwards made a lazy attempt at a catch, barely getting a finger on the ball.
After those close calls, Gambhir and Dravid were more solid against the West Indian quicks. Dravid reached 13,000 runs by classically driving a half-volley for four, while Gambhir’s increasing confidence was on display as he launched one over midwicket to reach his half-century. With Bishoo off the field for half the post-lunch session, getting his injured knee attended to, Dravid feasted on Marlon Samuels’ gentle offbreaks, crashing him through covers for successive fours.
Both batsmen were set, and the track was still a shirtfront, but West Indies managed to wheedle out a wicket, when Rampaul banged in a bouncer that Gambhir threw his bat at. The ball flew through to the keeper, and though the Snickometer showed nothing, the umpire was convinced there was an edge.
The crowd wasn’t too disappointed since it brought in Sachin Tendulkar, continuing his quest for the century that has eluded him since March. Tendulkar used his feet well against the spinners right from the start, and quickly progressed to 20. After tea, the crowd had more to cheer as he upper-cut Fidel Edwards into the stands beyond third man. It was a shot he repeated against a quicker one from Samuels, getting four for his effort.
Dravid, meanwhile, worked his way to 1000 runs for the year, and his half-century soon after. He showed his presence of mind off the final delivery before tea: after he defended the ball, it spun alarmingly back towards the stumps, but he reacted just in time, booting the ball away when the it was inches away from the wickets.
His sixth hundred of 2011 – his personal-best for a calendar year – seemed inevitable as he soldiered on untroubled after tea, jumping down the track to power Bishoo over mid-on before powerfully square-cutting Edwards for another boundary. He coaxed the ball past mid-off to move into the eighties, but was dismissed off the next delivery, top-edging on to the stumps.
Tendulkar carried on, unfurling several stylish boundaries to march past 50, a landmark that was greeted by his home ground with expected boisterousness. VVS Laxman also joined in the fun, showing off the wristy whips to midwicket that make him such a delight to watch. Both had a moment of worry each: Laxman top-edging towards a vacant point region, and Tendulkar surviving on 58 as Cartlon Baugh put down a regulation outside edge.
Those two wickets would have swung the match in West Indies’ favour. Instead, with only 13 wickets toppled in three days, and the track showing little signs of degenerating, it remains an even game with chances of an outright result receding.