Wasim Jaffer scored a maiden double hundred as India took hold of the first Test against the West Indies, in St. John's, Antigua, on Monday.
At close on Day 4, the West Indies were 13 without loss in the five overs they faced after India posted 521 for 6 in the second innings.
Going into the final day's play, India have a lead of 378 runs.
Jaffer scored a marathon 212 and became only the fourth Indian - after Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Sardesai and Navjot Singh Sidhu - to score a double century in the West Indies.
The Mumbai batsman batted for eight-and-a-half hours and faced 399 balls during his magnificent knock that contained 24 fours and a six.
Captain Rahul Dravid, who scored 62, played the supporting role in a 203-run partnership for the third wicket.
India ended their second innings in grand style with Mahendra Singh Dhoni scoring a quick 69 off 52 balls, which was inclusive of four fours and six sixes.
If the progress of this Test were a cardiac monitor attached to the Indian dressing room, the read would have been: stone cold, dead in the water, on day one; deader, if possible, on day two as the Windies batsmen attack; mild signs of a faint pulse on the third morning, when the Indians kept the four remaining Windies wickets from doing too much damage; and just about able to sit up and take notice, through the second and third sessions, as the Indians in the second innings did what they failed to do in the first - to wit, string together partnerships for successive wickets (72/115 for the first wicket; 75/125 for the second).
This morning, the monitor showed signs of a strong pulse; the patient had recovered well enough to not just sit up in bed, but to actually take the nurse for a walk in the garden.
From the first over, it was clear the confidence was returning. Knowing the Indian mindset and the nature of the two not out batsmen, you would have expected quite cricket in the first hour; you would have thought the two would look to play themselves in against the old ball before the new one became due.
Instead, they came out swinging. Jaffar, that epitome of patience through yesterday, aimed a drive at a Dwayne Bravo loosener in the second over of the morning, and the ball brushed the fingertips of a diving Chris Gayle at slip on its way to the third man fence.
In the bowler's second over, it was Dravid's turn to flash a cut at a ball not wide enough for the shot - and this time, the edge flashed high, and wide, again brushing Gayle's fingernails en route to the fence.
Brian Lara has come in for deserved praise for the way he has outthought Dravid thus far. In context, it was interesting that when the heat got turned on, all his experience didn't really translate on the field. The most glaring instance was the use of a single slip first up in the morning - both Jaffar and Dravid would have been gone, inside the first four overs of the morning, if a second slip had been in place.
More remarkable/noticeable than the hard hits early on, though, was the active pursuit of singles from the get-go. Where, yesterday, the two batsmen were content to let the bowler dictate the line, to play to the fielder and stay in the crease, this morning they started creating their own angles - Dravid, with the soft hands playing short of the field and Jaffar with a slightly more open stance and bat face, angling the ball between fielders to make the run possible.
Equally, they showed intent in picking out weak links in the field to put pressure on - when Ian Bradshaw for instance was posted at fine leg, they snuck a second run off him on the throw; when he was switched around to mid on, they hit the ball straight to him and ran anyway. And when in the 88th over, the West Indies were preoccupied with an LBW shout against Dravid off Bradshaw, the two sneaked the leg bye while everyone was still going howzaat - on that occasion, Jaffar spotting the single and calling, and Dravid immediately responding.
Jaffar was the standout player of the session - that initial edge didn't stop him from keeping his shoulders open; later in that same over, when Bravo straightened his line, the batsman was quick to glide forward into the perfectly placed cover drive. In the next over, he glided back into his crease to shorten Bravo's length, creaming him for four through point to get to his 151 (274 balls). His display was not as tight as on the second day, but against that, he was clearly conscious of the need, having gotten in, to make it count.
Lara was forced entirely onto the defensive; the field spread out and as happened when the Indians were in the field, the gaps began opening up for the two batsmen to exploit. The new ball was the only card left; it was played in the 84th over and made little difference as both batsmen kept the intent aggressive, shrugging off air-shots that touched nothing and keeping their focus on getting runs in decent time.
Again, an example from Jaffar: Bradshaw, who this morning used the cloud cover and a wind-assist to finally hit his straps - or, at the least, bowl better than he did in the first innings -- produced an immaculate over, the 88th. The first ball of that over was the leg before shout the two sneaked a single off. The second and third were on line of off seaming away late, beating Jaffar both times with late movement as the batsman looked to force. The fourth was just a touch fuller - and the batsman rolled his wrists, picking the ball on off stump, and whipping it against the seam through square leg for a stunning four.
In Lara's defense, he has the handicap of his fastest bowler taken out of the game with a dodgy hamstring - but then again, in the first innings it was Colleymore and Bravo who were inspirational, and both bowlers here have been countered with a far more positive display (as witness the immaculate straight punch off the undriveable Colleymore in the 91st over).
India, 177 runs ahead with 8 wickets in hand, is not yet out of the woods; they are a long way from thinking of targets, declarations and such. But starting yesterday afternoon, the visitors have begun winning sessions in succession, and in a momentum game, that is what at this point counts.
Each Test match produces a period where both sides wait for the other to blink first; where each realizes they have no way to immediately crack open the game, and so try to force the other into error.
That period came during the middle session of the day. Play resumed 20 minutes behind schedule thanks to a sharp shower at lunch; that little cloudburst left a residue, by way of cloud cover and a stiff breeze, that aided the bowlers get more swing and seam than in the identical period of play on day three, when the blazing sun had reduced the pitch to its most docile.
Brian Lara spread his field into a defensive arc, intent on restricting the damage. Dravid and Jaffar played if not a risk-free game, at least within the allowable minimum of risk, pushing the scoring along when possible and ensuring that the bowlers did not break through.
Given that, much of play was about statistics, as opposed to strategies and counters. The pair brought up their 200 run partnership (411 runs; the first 100 had come off 224); in the process they went past the record for the highest third wicket partnership ever, home or away, for India against the West Indies.
Jaffar continued to shrug off the odd edges and play-and-miss periods, especially against Bradshaw who, in helpful conditions, finally got his bowling act together and produced an incisive spell of seam and swing mirroring his displays in ODIs, and to make runs when and where he could.
Mostly, the back foot punch either the cut or forcing drive through point, and the drives in the V either side of the bowler, provided the bread, the butter and even most of the jam; for the rest, he was content to work it around and take singles where available.
He first went past the highest individual score ever by a visiting batsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground (a record that will likely stand for all time, since this ground is due to be retired from Test cricket after this game); he had inched to one run short of the 200 mark when his captain blinked.
Through his innings, constructed on defensive lines that sought to eliminate all risk and keep the bowlers from breaking through, Dravid had looked to sweep Mohammad off length, and consistently hit the shots well, picking the one turning in to him, even on line of outside off, to make the shot possible. The second ball of the 111th over was in the same slot, it produced the same response, but a fraction more bounce meant the difference between the middle and the top edge; Bradshaw at deep fine leg had an easy take (62/177 with just two fours; India 350/3; partnership 203 in 424 deliveries).
Off the very next ball Jaffar, who had crossed over while that hit was in the air, worked one to leg to get to a 200 (379 balls) that was an essay in composure and concentration; not always pretty to watch (that said, his play square on the off, and in the V on either side of the bowler, remained consistently good), but always admirable in the determination he displayed to get in, stay in, and not give it all away; admirable too in the way he focused on playing to his strengths, never feeling the need to try anything not true to type.
Lara seemed to figure that Dravid's wicket was the moment he was waiting for; it was, in a sense, a potential game breaker another wicket quickly could put India on the defensive, without enough runs on a pitch that remains good to bat on; against that, if Yuvraj could hit his straps quickly, the uptick in scoring rate could break the game India's way.
Lara clearly figured on those lines; he greeted Yuvraj with a daisy chain of slips, and Bradshaw used the clouds and the wind to a nicety, in an extended spell that shook off the horrors of the first innings and the first part of this one.
Yuvraj seemed extremely fidgety early on, swishing outside off too often for comfort; he nearly found the silliest way possible to get out, in the 116th over, when he pushed Bradshaw down the track and took off for a single that needed an overactive imagination to spot. The bowler fielded well on the follow through; Yuvraj stopped and, in trying to reverse direction, slipped but with the batsman dead in his sights, Bradshaw missed the stumps with the easiest of throws.
If the southpaw was the one looking vulnerable, it was Jaffar who finally went with tea approaching. Bradshaw, in the 118th over of the innings, got the perfect line going, angling one in on a full length on off and middle. Jaffar looked to play with the shut face on the on; the ball did just enough off the deck to beat the shot, and slip through the tiniest of gates onto the stumps to end Jaffar's impressive vigil (212/399; 24 boundaries, one six).
Bradshaw sprawled full length to kiss the turf; in the way he turned his bowling around, there was a lesson Sreesanth could profit by. The left arm seamer began getting things back together by focusing on just hitting the right lines and lengths, and bowling within himself.
Once he got some sort of decent rhythm working for him, he gradually expanded, trying out the variations he has at his disposal, but never pushing too far too quickly a perfect display of how to play yourself back into form.
Yuvraj survived a near caught and bowled off Chris Gayle in the final over of the session, and India ended a session that produced 70 runs for the loss of Dravid and Jaffar with a lead of 248 on the board; needing the two batsmen now in the middle, and Dhoni to follow, to wrap their heads around the need to maximize the 39 overs that remain in the day's play or at the last, 29 of those, if India is to contemplate a declaration late in the evening for a quick go at the Windies openers.
I suspect, though, that on balance, given the nature of the wicket, India might look to bat through, delaying a declaration to the 5th morning on this track, a target of around 320-340, with 100 overs to get them in, is eminently within reach especially if the likes of Gayle, Sarwan, Lara and Bravo hit their straps.
There's an unwritten axiom to Indian cricket, and it runs thus: When India bats, runs have to come through a torrential stream of fours and sixes (unless of course a batsman gets out trying, in which case he is an idiot who should have been more patient). And when India bowls, wickets need to fall every other over if not oftener.
Cricket, unfortunately, doesn't work that way. On this pitch, and in these conditions, you could go one way, or the other - you could try hitting at most everything and produce interesting cameos, or you could play the patience game and score more.
To the credit of the Indians, they played to the game, not the gallery. In conditions more conducive to swing and seam, thanks to the heavy cloud cover, and against bowlers who used the conditions well, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif opened the session playing the waiting game.
For the fielding side, Bradshaw continued his marathon stint that eventually comprised 25 overs bowled non-stop with a lunch break interrupting after the first 9; Chris Gayle bowled what can only be called medium medium-pace off a six step run up, concentrating on the simple ploy of using his height to spear the ball in on the stumps on the very full length.
Kaif and Yuvraj took over from Dravid and Jaffar, and while bustling around a lot more (and playing and missing, and playing and edging, and playing and being dropped, also a lot more) than the previous pair, did not manage to significantly up the tempo.
Yuvraj's frustration was increasingly evident - the way he batted, there was every indication that he couldn't figure out why, on a track where the ball was coming on, he couldn't get his shots to go. He couldn't, because the bowlers were not express enough to come on to bat (it pays to remember that both Munaf and VRV Singh are clocked ahead of any of the Windies seamers on the park today) and the natural wear of a fourth day track would make timing just that bit more difficult, two factors he was just not allowing for.
His tortured tenure, showcased by as many dropped chances as superb shots, ended when he climbed into a Gayle delivery outside off from around the wicket; the ball was turning in just enough to put the ball higher than the batsman would have liked. It was cleanly hit, but there was just enough air for Chanderpaul at cover to dive to his wrong side, the right, and hold a screamer (39/84 Yuvraj; 419/5).
Lara put a slip, silly point and short square for Mahendra Dhoni; the batsman responded by first scaring the daylights out of short square with a power packed flick off Gayle that nearly took the fielder's head along for company on its trip to the midwicket boundary; to the next ball, he nearly drilled a ball right through the stomach of silly point and had that fielder scampering for safety; then with a late cut played almost one handed, almost took Lara's fingers off at slip.
Two more fierce cuts in the next over from Gayle, and the close field got as far away from the action as they possibly could. A little later in the proceedings, he scared the heck out of a passing bird, running down the wicket and launching Dave Mohammad into the stratosphere over midwicket; a ball later, he hit the same shot, only better. Having practiced it, he then played it to perfection in the next over. Then two more: same shot, same direction, same result, in the next.
All of that was prelude to the 151st over. Kaif knocked a single off the first ball. The second was a twirl of the bat, that took a perfectly good ball from off stump line and lofted it over the midwicket fence. Ball three, down the track, bang, gone. Ball four, powered this time over the long on fence by way of variety.
Ball five saw the batsman go down the track to a half tracker from Mohammad; he swung high and hard, and was held by Darren Ganga at deep midwicket on the line. No one could tell whether the fielder had taken the catch clean. The fielder in question said yes. The umpires checked, couldn't decide, went upstairs, but Billy Doctrove in the third chair said he couldn't say for sure either; the replays were just not clear enough to figure out whether the fielder's foot was just on the line, or safely just inside it.
Then followed this ridiculous passage, with the on field umpires giving Dhoni the benefit; Lara pleading with the umpires to reverse the decision and, when that failed, in bizarre fashion asking Dhoni to give himself out.
Dravid, watching all this from the pavilion (it was he who, spotting Dhoni walking off when it wasn't clear whether the catch had been made clean, waved him back to the middle), pulled a number on his counterpart when he declared the innings with no decision yet taken on Dhoni.
As moments go, this one seemed good -- judging by Lara's visible desperation, he was feeling the heat and that seemed a good psychological moment to put the home team back in.
The Indians scored another brownie point when Dravid and Dhoni went to the third umpire and said they were happy to take Darren Ganga's word that he had taken the catch clean. (It still does not alter the fact that when the on field umpires finally declared Dhoni in, Lara was clearly guilty of dissent when he then argued with the umpires and with the batsmen, getting them to change the verdict).
India's innings, after all that suspense, finally ended with the score on 521/6 - a lead of 391, with 95 overs left to play.
Meanwhile, there has been much praise for Lara's captaincy, and he has deserved it. Against that, consider this: In successive overs, Dhoni kept hitting sixes off Mohammad. If an Indian captain in a similar situation had kept that bowler on, he would have been crucified - so what precisely was Lara thinking of when he allowed Mohammad yet another one? 27 deliveries yielded 48 runs - and Dhoni throughout his frenetic stay at the wicket never had to face a single over of restrictive seam.
Munaf Patel and Sreesanth bowled four of the five overs of the day (interestingly, Dravid kept the faith with his young seamer, despite his horror run in the first innings). Anil Kumble predictably bowled the final over of the day, and the Windies went in on 13/0, needing 379 to win with 10 wickets in hand and 90 overs to do it in.
Tomorrow could turn into a cliff hanger, or the dampest of squibs - either way, the first session will pretty much dictate the course, and likely even the result.