Sehwag’s impact

Virender Sehwag has been the anabolic steroid the Indian team has been using to propel itself forward with incredible momentum in Test matches. India has looked much less potent as a Test team, during Sehwag's lean period in the last six Tests since Lahore in January. When Sehwag scores, the opposition is in no doubt about his intent. He is out there to dominate the bowling and he scores so quickly that he sets up the opportunity to win. That intent to win, which he brings with his batting, pushes opposing captains on the back foot and they forget that they are also trying to win a Test match.

Brian Lara was the victim of Sehwag’s amazing onslaught at St. Lucia, spreading the field far and wide half an hour into the Test, trying to contain India. Lara was happy when Sehwag was not on strike and revealed as much in the post match press conference when he said that his bowlers did a good a job containing Wasim Jaffer. Sehwag’s innings had such an impact, that Lara forgot about winning the game and by the end of the day he was already reflecting on the flatness of the pitch and how his team can also bat well on this pitch. He had apparently given up the thought of bowling India out and was waiting for the declaration so that his team could also bat on this surface.

The opening session was the perfect Sehwag storm as he threatened to break all sorts of records. If not for a slow outfield, he would have definitely had a century before lunch, but had to settle for a mere 99. It was a spectacular assault on the West Indian bowling, and Dwayne Bravo in particular faced the brunt of his wrath. Bravo had been the best bowler for the West Indies through the one day series and in the first innings of the Antigua Test match. But, here in Bravo’s second over and the twelfth of the match, Sehwag pummeled him for 20 runs of five balls including two brutal sixes. Bravo’s confidence was destroyed and he bowled only 8 more overs in the innings. Pedro Collins was the only bowler who held his own, and kept the Windies in the match claiming all 4 wickets that fell on the first day, one of which was a beautiful indipper that cleaned up Yuvraj Singh. Oddly enough, Yuvraj hasn’t been able to reproduce his one day international form in the Test matches. Maybe he should have a chat with the sports psychologist, Dr. Rudi Webster, who Sehwag opened up to and that appears to have refreshed his mind.

On the second day, Lara showed his intent or lack thereof, when he opened the attack not with Collins, but Ian Bradshaw and then he gave the new ball to Taylor and Collymore. Dravid and the usually nervy Kaif began in aggressive fashion. Kaif overcame his first day nerves and drove the bowlers repeatedly to the cover boundary. The boundaries flowed in the first session as the scoring rate of the previous day maintained. Both batsmen made big hundreds with Kaif making his maiden Test ton. With three batsmen making 140 plus scores, India was well and truly in control of the Test. Even though, the run rate dropped in the post lunch session, the Sehwag impetus allowed Dravid to make his declaration early in the post tea session to test the weary Caribbean batsmen. Dravid's bowlers responded magnificently. On pitch developing some variation due to wear, Munaf Patel kept the ball within the stumps and bowled with good pace to claim back to back leg before victims. Anil Kumble capped of a near perfect day for India, when he trapped a tentative Lara, leg before with the bat tucked behind the pad.

It has been a complete momentum shift in the series, and unless the West Indian batsmen attack the Indian bowlers and transfer some of the pressure onto India, they will continue to lose wickets and will most likely lose the Test match. The pitch is still in favor of the batters, and there is no reason for them to think that they cannot bat out the whole day without the loss of too many wickets.


Winning ain't easy

Test victories abroad have been elusive for the Indian team and Monday was another example of how difficult it is to win a Test match. It was a brilliant finish with fielders crowding the bat, loud appeals by the Indians and deafening applause for every ball that was kept out by the West Indians. The last over will be something Sreesanth will be replaying in his mind for a very long time. India got six wickets in the last session, but they needed one more. Focusing on the end will be doing a disservice to a great Test match. A Test match with outstanding contributions from actors on both sides, Dwayne Bravo with an inspired spell of swing and cut on the first day, Gayle with a breathtaking assault on the second day, an incredible back to the wall double century by Jaffer spread over the third and fourth days topped off by an astonishing whirling dervish of an innings from Dhoni. They set the stage for the climactic fifth day.

Jaffer who fluffed a crucial chance off Chanderpaul on the final day, must be wondering why fate was conspiring against him after he had probably played the innings of his life. It is a funny game, this cricket, and he has to look no further than his captain Rahul Dravid to learn to treat both triumph and disasters as the twin imposters they truly are. Sreesanth would be another to agree, after getting hammered in the first innings he came back to pick up two wickets on the final day including Lara for a duck. Bravo who picked up 4 wickets in the first innings, went wicketless as the pitch eased up in the second innings. Dave Mohammad who got clobbered by Dhoni, scored a vital half century on the final day to thwart the Indians.

One of the most compelling sights was Ian Bradshaw lying flat on the pitch in a mixture of relief and gratitude after he snuck one through Jaffer’s defenses to get his only wicket of the match. In the absence of the injured Edwards and a below par Colleymore, Bradshaw bowled a marathon 25 overs on the trot. Incredibly enough, he bowled more overs than Anil Kumble in the match!

Kumble showed why he is a champion bowler with 7 wickets in the match, but the surprise package was Sehwag with 4 wickets. Sehwag’s bowling seems to have improved tremendously, he has added a drifter to his repertoire which he probably picked up from Ramesh Powar, it shapes away like a gentle outswinger and goes straight on after pitching. He picked up two wickets with this ball. He also claimed one with a flighted off break that bounced and turned for Dhoni to complete a great stumping to dismiss Bravo.

As the match progressed the Antigua pitch lost all its juice, and the faster bowlers struggled, and in the end Dravid would have been wishing that he had had the services of Harbhajan Singh on the final day. The umpires Simon Taufel and Azad Rauf had a tough match, with Taufel probably having his poorest Test match in quite a while. There was a complete breakdown in authority during Dhoni’s controversial dismissal in the second innings. The poor cameraman got too excited with Dhoni’s pyrotechnics, that he forgot to focus on the ball and got carried away with his theoretical path of the Dhoni projectile. The third umpire said he couldn’t see if the catch was clean, and the on field umpires proved to be a dithering duo without the evidence. Lara certainly wouldn’t like to see a replay of his churlish reaction to the whole saga. But, it definitely added to the drama of what was a fantastic Test match.

This was Test match that India almost wrested away from the West Indies, and they will go into the second Test match in a much better frame of mind.


Jaffer’s resilience

In recent times, India have faltered so often in the second innings of a Test match that most international teams probably calculate that they need only two wickets before the Indian batting lineup folds, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. Sehwag has a pretty spotty record in the second innings, so it really is only a matter of one wicket. Pakistan has proven it twice in Bangalore and Karachi. England had humiliated India in Mumbai, by wrapping up all 10 wickets for a meager 100 runs. The only time India did not crumble, and even attempted an audacious chase was in Nagpur this March when a classy not so young opener on his fourth comeback to the Indian team played out the first two sessions on the final day for his first Test hundred. Today at the Antigua Recreation Ground, he made his second hundred, and even though India isn’t out of the woods yet, Wasim Jaffer has shown that he has the gumption to play significant innings at the top of the order to pull his team out of the fire. He is an opener with steel, something India has been lacking for a long time. It wasn’t as fluent as his maiden century, in fact he had his moments of luck here, but this innings could prove to be the more significant one, it might yet setup a remarkable Indian victory.

On a track with some Caribbean rum rolled into it by the groundsman the Indian batting line up flattered to deceive with 6 batsmen getting starts before throwing it away. Chris Gayle with some enterprising batting launched into the three young Indian fast bowlers and hit both Sreesanth and debutant VRV Singh out of the attack. If not for the calmer heads of Kumble and a freshly tonsured Sehwag with two wickets apiece, India would have been completely out of the game. Still after two days where India was outplayed in all departments of the game, most people were polishing up their fire Chappell-recall Sourav stories. On the third day, India clawed its way back into the Test, beginning with the unflappable Munaf Patel prising out an early wicket, before the strapping VRV hustled and bustled and finally hit the right line to bounce out 2 West Indian tailenders. Kumble quickly claimed the last wicket to limit the Windies lead to 130.

Sehwag began India's second innings in typical fashion with a sliced six over thirdman off Fidel Edwards. Edwards changed his line and aimed fast short balls into Sehwag’s ribs. Sehwag poked and prodded and would probably have perished if Edwards hadn’t pulled up lame clutching his hamstring. With Edwards out of the attack, Sehwag survived and thrived for a while before the nagging Corey Colleymore snapped him up for the second time in the match. VVS Laxman caressed his way to a cameo 31 before he slogged a googly from Dave Mohammed to mid on. All this while, Jaffer played a patient knock having nothing to do with a majority of the deliveries outside his offstump, but he did work a few pleasing shots off his legs, and once stood up tall to square drive a short ball to the point boundary. As his confidence grew, he even pulled out the straight drive and cover drives to Mohammad and Bravo. He didn’t lose his patience as he approached the landmark, and brought up his hundred with an elegant square drive off the strangely unthreatening Ian Bradshaw. Even before he could raise his bat to acknowledge the dressing room, he got a warm embrace from his grateful captain, Rahul Dravid, who was stoically keeping one end up. India finished the day with 8 wickets remaining and will be looking to push their lead from 85 to about 300.

It is not going to be easy, but the momentum has shifted India’s way and it will be Brian Lara’s turn to inspire his team to fight back, after all they have successfully chased more than 400 against Australia at the very same ground.