The Laxman-Dhoni association was similar to their 259-run association at the same venue last year, which set up the declaration and gave India enough time to force an innings win against South Africa.
In the morning session Laxman finished his first century in 15 months, a deceptive statistic because he has won India Tests in between, and about 25 minutes before tea Dhoni reached his first hundred since the previous Kolkata effort last February. Twenty minutes after tea India declared their innings closed, resisting the temptation of allowing Laxman time to go for a double-century. In fading light, Umesh Yadav and R Ashwin sent the West Indies openers back.
In all likelihood today was going to be about West Indies’ trying to delay the declaration. Their chance to restrict India came early in the morning when slightly variable bounce showed up, and the ball moved around in the humidity and under overcast skies. Yuvraj Singh scratched around for his 25, and Kemar Roach produced two edges off an aggressive Dhoni’s bat by the time he had reached 16. Before Carlton Baugh could catch them, though, the umpire’s call of “no-ball” resonated. Since then a bizarre bad-light stoppage at 10.40am was the only obstacle for India.
On his beloved Eden Gardens strip, Laxman batted on unaffected, reaching 1217 runs in Kolkata, at an average of 110.63. Resuming on an overnight 73, he didn’t have to reach out for runs. Fidel Edwards started the day with a 7-2 field for him. Laxman waited and waited until he bowled one straight, and flicked it for four through midwicket.
Yuvrak walked back a dejected man, a man who knows he can’t afford too many such innings at this crucial stage of his Test career, but out walked a man with the declaration on his mind. He lofted the third ball he faced over mid-on. Laxman was already in his 90s by then, and reached his hundred in the most ‘Laxman of fashions’, taking a Sammy outswinger from outside off and flicking it to the right of mid-on. Roach bowled his no-balls in fading light, and West Indies did the smart thing then, using fast bowlers and bouncers to make sure play was suspended. An early lunch was taken, and eventually only about 10 minutes’ play was lost.
Post lunch West Indies tried to slow India down through restrictive fields as opposed to wickets. Dhoni and Laxman still managed to go at over four per over, Laxman through singles and twos, and Dhoni through the big hits. There was a bit of method to Dhoni’s hitting. He chose to be patient when Sammy bowled wide with two men deep, but used the pace of Edwards to beat those men. He didn’t try anything fancy against Devendra Bishoo’s legspin, but welcomed Marlon Samuels with a nonchalant first-ball six over long-on.
The singles remained available throughout, and Laxman kept picking them, hitting only two fours in his advance from 100 to 150, his sixth such conversion out of 17 hundreds. As he approached his hundred, Dhoni too took the Laxman approach as the field sets didn’t ask him to take risks. He hit only one four in moving from 68 to 100, but hardly dropped the rate.
West Indies were now going through the motions. Dhoni got back into the boundary-hitting mode just before tea, taking 44 off 28 balls after his hundred. In the first over after tea, though, Roach managed to bowl a legal delivery and get Dhoni to edge it. Laxman’s double might or might have been a consideration, but a mixture of fading light and bouncers at Ashwin made sure India declared with a possible 24 overs to go to stumps.
Dhoni led the team out wearing a helmet, which meant India were going to open with spin again. This, though, seemed to be dictated by the state of light. However, he pushed his luck by getting Yadav to bowl the second over. Yadav’s second ball was a peach: it landed on the seam and kicked at Adrian Barath, taking the edge to second slip.
That was the last over Yadav could bowl. Kraigg Brathwaite and Kirk Edwards scored seven runs in the first six overs. That allowed the fielders to crowd the bat. A bat-pad opportunity duly arrived, off the bowling of Ashwin, but substitute Virat Kohli couldn’t hold on to it. Kohli was relieved three overs later when the same man Brathwaite was given out bat-pad off Ashwin. This time, though, the edge wasn’t so conclusive. Five balls later, light deteriorated enough to send the players back.