Rahul Dravid scored his second half-century to give India the upper hand at close on the second day of the fourth and final Test against the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday.
India were 128 for six in the second innings, for an overall lead of 225 runs.
Dravid was unbeaten on a solid 62 with Anil Kumble on 2, as the other Indian batsmen repeated their failures of the first innings.
The two batsmen had rescued India in the first innings too, scoring 81 and 45 respectively.
Earlier, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh bowled India to a 97-run lead on first innings after the West Indies, replying to India's total of 200 all out on Friday, were skittled out for 103.
Harbhajan polished off the lower-order to end up with figures of 5 for 13 in 4.3 overs.
I need a good statistician, who goes beyond numbers and clips stories as well, to tell me this - how many times in recent history has a captain lost the toss, bowled the opposition out for just 200 in the first innings, and then complained about the pitch; that too, a seaming, bouncing pitch of the kind he had been asking for all series?
It didn't take long, though, to see why - the home team had bowled India out cheap, but for all the celebration, clearly wasn't fancying a bat on the same deck.
Things began to happen as early as the fourth ball of the innings. Sreesanth angled one across the left-hander, hit the line just around off and Chris Gayle, frozen in a defensive position down the wrong line, watched as the ball slid past the edge and took out off and middle (0/1; 0/4).
Brian Lara walked into the breach left by the injured Ramnaresh Sarwan and, to the second ball he faced, survived a good LBW shout as Sreesanth again bent one back in, again to a left hander, again on a line just outside off seaming in to off and middle.
At the other end Munaf Patel, though still not hitting his straps, managed to crack Darren Ganga a nasty one on his glove. The first runs of the innings, a four, came in fortuitous fashion in the fourth over of the innings. Munaf beat Ganga with one that lifted and seamed away around off, the ball found the edge and Wasim Jaffar, at third slip, reacted way too late - the clear chance flew past him and to the third man boundary.
Lara opened his account with a scorching pull off Sreesanth in the 5th over, after having played out 11 balls. That in fact was to be the story of his knock - when opportunity afforded, the West Indies captain played a series of dazzling drives off either foot, and spent much of the time in between struggling to put bat to ball.
Kumble was brought on as early as the 10th over, and Lara greeted him with two outstanding on drives that took him to 25 - 24 of those runs coming in boundaries.
Sreesanth switched ends in the next over, taking over from the off color Munaf and, after starting with a delivery that jagged back to strike Lara on the pads, ended the over with a searing lifter on off. A lot of shoulder went into that ball, that kicked off length and forced Lara to fend at it, much in the fashion of Munaf Patel late last evening against a similar delivery off similar length from Taylor; the ball lobbed nicely to third slip (42/2; 26/40).
Four overs later, Sreesanth made one seam away from the right handed Marlon Samuels, promoted up the over for his easy strokeplay in the previous Test. The batsman drove at it, found the edge, and Jaffar at third slip this time got both hands to the sort of catch fielders in that position routinely hold, and grassed it (1/12; 46/2).
The let off didn't prove costly - Kumble who, in an earlier over, had produced one that kicked from full length very close to off, drew Samuels forward in the 18th over with a floated delivery on length that turned sharply past the bat for Dhoni, staying low, to pull off a smart stumping (53/3; 2/20).
Chanderpaul and Ganga settled down to dig the West Indies out of the hole; the latter, in particular, batted with fluency and good judgment after his early let off, playing with the sort of patience this track requires, and jumping on every opportunity afforded by lapses in line and length to move things along.
Jaffar, who has looked somewhat tired, jaded throughout the day, took out Chanderpaul just before lunch. In the 23rd over of the innings, he first forced a miscued drive from the batsman with a delivery pitched further up, that sliced off the edge and flew high and wide of third slip. And two deliveries later, he again produced a ball down the channel that Chanderpaul drove at with a full flourish; the ball moved just enough to beat the shot and find the edge through to Dhoni (72/4; 10/20).
Ganga relieved some of the pressure, cracking Kumble for successive fours in the next over with a whip through midwicket off his pads, followed by a scorching on drive.
Harbhajan Singh came on for what was the scheduled last over before lunch - and struck with his second ball. The delivery pitched outside off and spun back in sharply; Ganga, playing for the break, went right back onto his stumps and pulled his bat away from the line, took it on the pad in front of the stumps, and Rudi Koertzen had no problem giving the decision, to a ball hitting middle and leg. The batsman clearly didn't expect that much turn. (80/5; 40/63).
There are interesting signs here, in the turn Kumble - and Harbhajan -- are getting. Allied to bounce, it makes the line around off that much more difficult to play.
The real point though is the turn, off a pitch that is yet to show the faintest sign of cracking. The day one pitch had a lot of moisture underneath; as the sun continues its drying process, the wicket should get harder, the ball should come on more, and if the turn keeps up, Lara's prediction that batting last here could be a nightmare might well prove spot on.
At lunch, India's score of 200 is already looking mountainous - and this Test has turned on its axis.
When the West Indies came out to bowl in India's second innings, they were booed by an irate crowd.
Personally, that kind of thing pisses me off. Grant that fans expend time and money, sometimes money they can ill afford, to come watch a team play, I do believe they need to back a team through bad times, not just enjoy the good ones.
I understand the frustration that draws their reaction, but I must confess each successive occasion it happens, and irrespective to who it happens, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
That said, the West Indies innings, which lasted a sum total of eight overs after lunch, consumed in its entirety 201 deliveries - two overs less than Rahul Dravid's first innings. It was a capitulation that had nothing to do with the pitch, admittedly quickening a bit and turning, or the bowlers, all four of whom did their jobs to a T without ever losing the plot.
You watched, and you thought you were watching a bunch of sulky schoolboys.
The drama continued apace after the break. Harbhajan Singh, continuing his unfinished over, took Dwayne Bravo out in the fourth ball after resumption, the last of his first over. The ball was pitched just outside off, it bounced and turned and Bravo, standing tall, tried to play it around the corner - not a particularly good ploy, with a leg slip and short square leg waiting for just that. In the event, he pushed it to the squarer fielder and Yuvraj Singh stayed low to complete a fine catch (81/6; 0/7).
Ramnaresh Sarwan finally came out, with runner in tow and looked to hit his way out of trouble. In the off spinner's second over, he put a foot down the track, had an almighty scythe, got the edge of the flailing bat on another turning delivery, and watched the ball fly high and down the throat of Mohammad Kaif standing quite close at midwicket (88/7; 7/10).
In the 32nd over, Harbhajan Singh started with two very short deliveries, both smashed superbly through point by Dinesh Ramdhin. The bowler got his length right with the third ball - very full on off, turning in; the batsman prodded at it, caught the edge of the bat onto pad, and Yuvraj had a considerably easier take at that short square leg position (99/8; 10/14).
Pedro Collins was very lucky to survive an LBW shout in the last ball of the same over, as he padded up to a Harbhajan delivery on off without offering a shot. By then, however, the panic was pervasive, and nothing exemplified it as much as the next wicket.
Taylor had earlier in the over played a tennis-forehand type whack at Munaf Patel, smearing the ball to the straight fence. He went for another in the same over, but mishit it. The ball dribbled back down the pitch and just past the bowler; Taylor put his head down and raced to the other end oblivious of the fact that his partner wasn't going anywhere. With both batsmen at one end, the Indians merely had to walk the ball to the other end to complete the dismissal (103/9; 6/17).
In the next over, Collins took an almighty swipe at Harbhajan, fetching the straighter one from outside off to pick out long on, and the West Indies innings ended on its lowest ever Test score against India (103/10; 0/6).
The Indians applauded Harbhajan off the field, for a tight, controlled 4.3-0-13-5 spell that relied almost entirely on big turning off breaks, as opposed to his favored doosras, to bring up his 19th five wicket haul, and his second in successive Tests after sitting out the first two with injury.
That the West Indies gave India a 97-run lead was not the real problem; that could always be reeled in by some good bowling and good application with the bat the second time round. The real problem for the home team was that it gave the Indians the gift of time - when the first half of the match ended, three days and two full sessions still remained in play.
The Indians had through good bowling and a fair deal of cupidity on the part of the opposition gotten themselves out of jail - within twenty deliveries, they walked back in, locked themselves up and all but threw the key away.
Wasim Jaffar, who had earlier earned kudos for his patience and his willingness to leave outside off, went uncharacteristically hard at a ball in Jerome Taylor's first over that was wide of off, bouncing and going harmlessly through.
The batsman hadn't gotten far enough across to cover the line; the bat was flailing away from the body, and the ball flew off the edge for Runako Morton, at third slip, to go to his right and reel in an absolute scorcher (1/1; 1/9).
In his next over, Taylor bowled one short and wide of off that Virender Sehwag jumped all over. The next ball was very full, with some late swing; Sehwag looked to flick, was beaten for movement and hit on the pad in front of middle and leg. The batsman seemed a touch surprised by the decision, but it was bang on target (6/2; 4/6).
As in the first innings, it was left to Rahul Dravid, who unlike in the first innings looked to play in a more positive style without letting up on his tight defence, and VVS Laxman to dig deep into the trenches and try to bat India's way out of this one. They have been together 13 overs, and added 35, and their work hasn't even begun, yet.
Collapso cricket continued, in the post tea session, with India taking its cue from the West Indies performance and doing its collective best to hand back the advantage.
Apparently there were two tracks out there - one, on which Rahul Dravid found no problem middling every single ball hurled at him; the other, on which his mates couldn't stick for a half hour without being beaten a half dozen times and eventually, taken out.
VVS Laxman was the first. The batsman has this habit of playing with bat beside his body rather than behind; thanks to this, he looks classy when he brings the bat across and whips off his pads or drives to leg; equally, he can look ugly playing deliveries close to off.
Here, he again undid all his own hard graft up till that point. To a Corey Colleymore delivery outside his off stump, Laxman again pushed from beside his body; the resulting edge flew to second slip where Lara snaffled a very good catch (49/3; 16/59).
Again as in the first innings, Yuvraj Singh began with a couple of nicely timed drives, one square and another straight. But the left hander threw away yet another opportunity to redefine his career and, as he has so often in his career, wafted at a delivery angling across him from a right arm seam bowler (Colleymore, in this case).
The airy, no-percentage drive found the edge, and deposited the ball literally in Lara's lap at second slip (63/4; 13/20).
Mohammad Kaif, another of the young players who came into this series with an opportunity to end debate about whether he belonged in a Test lineup, was the next to underline his frailities. To a Pedro Collins angling across the right hander, Kaif drove at it with a big gap between bat and pad; the bat was going down the wrong line, and managed only to inner-edge the ball, past his pad, onto his off stump (76/5; 6/15).
Not a single one of those dismissals owed anything to the pitch which, while providing some bounce and some movement, was by no means such a nightmare as to explain 15 wickets falling by that stage of the day.
At the other end, Dravid grew in stature. It is the toughest thing for a batsman intent on defending his wicket to latch onto the odd loose ball and take full toll; the shift from defense to unexpected attack has caused the best in the business to make mistakes.
Not this bloke, though. He stayed focused on playing the tight defensive lines to the point where at one point, Collins was clearly seen asking him if he hadn't gotten tired and/or bored; in the middle of that, when in the 37th over of the innings Pedro Collins pitched one fractionally on the fuller length, the batsman extended his defense just enough to convert it into the straight drive.
The annoyed bowler banged the next one in short - and Dravid promptly went up on his toes to pull fluidly in front of midwicket. The ball was an exasperated bouncer so high the umpire called the wide; the re-bowled delivery was good, on length, seaming back in from the angle, and the phlegmatic defense was back in place. And when Jerome Taylor came back on after a good long rest, immediately after the second drinks break of a prolonged session, he was greeted with a scorching straight drive to bring up yet another 50 (102 balls); the celebratory shot to the next ball was a fierce pull to the short delivery through midwicket.
At the other end Mahendra Singh Dhoni, like an inexpert angler, fished off front foot and off back; as in the first innings, he again flashed a cut at a ball too close for the shot, but this time was lucky to see the shot fly wide of the slips to find the fence..
Following that, he applied himself better to the task of keeping Dravid company, and in the 44th over played a crackling square cut off Jerome Taylor - only to walk back, bowled, off the very next ball. This was a touch fuller, Dhoni inexplicably opted to remain on top of the crease, going nowhere with his foot, and was caught without a defense when the ball jagged in a touch, kept low, and went between flailing bat and pad to knock back middle stump (122/6; 19/39).
With Anil Kumble for company, Dravid farmed the strike and saw his team through to close; India's current lead is more than has been made on this track ever to win a Test, but history, and records of this nature, are there only to be erased.
You can make runs on this track if you have the patience; for India to feel really safe, they will need to make at least another 75, 100 before the Windies come on for a second strike.