Even in the infancy of this World Test Championship (WTC) cycle, a clean sweep against the West Indies seems essential to India’s chances of playing in a third consecutive final. With series against South Africa, England and Australia lined up this term, Rohit Sharma and co would have loved to believe that the two Tests in the Caribbean is a banker.
If they manage to secure a 2-0 scoreline, they will be grateful to Mohammad Siraj, who did what was necessary to keep their hopes alive by cutting through the West Indies middle order and lower order to claim his second five-wicket haul in Tests. West Indies’ last five wickets fell for 26 runs, giving India a first innings lead of 183 runs.
Rohit (57 off 44 balls) and Yashaswi Jaiswal (38 off 30) shone, while Ishan Kishan’s unbeaten 52 off 34 balls helped the hosts to 181/2 in 24 overs as they chased down the target of 364 in less than four sessions.
After a positive start, West Indies ended the final day at 76/2. Ravichandran Ashwin got home captain Craig Brathwaite for the fourth time in a row in the series before debutant Kirk McKenzie was trapped in front of a quick slider from around the stumps for a duck. The master off-spinner will be the biggest threat to the batsmen on the final day as well, and the pitch tweakers are starting to offer some help. Apart from possible resistance from the West Indies batsmen, India may also have to overcome the weather in their quest for a 2-0 series win as rain is expected on Monday.
Tagnarine Chanderpaul looked intent on survival on Day 4, failing to see any scoring chances early on, while Jermaine Blackwood restrained his natural attacking instincts and stayed at the crease for long periods in the first innings, but did not score more runs. Chasing the remaining eight wickets, India need 289 more for an improbable victory as they begin the challenge of the hosts on the final day.
As the hosts took 115.4 overs to post 255 in the first innings, the number of runs they scored was not as much of an issue as the time, especially as the rain came towards the time of play. With a double-quick bowlout of the hosts on Sunday morning, it allowed Rohit and Jaiswal to do what they are used to for IPL franchises.
Jaiswal set the tone with the very first ball of the innings when he went wild against Kemar Roach. He didn’t get the result he wanted with that ball, but the intentions were clear from the start. The left-hander was out in the first over, giving the pacer room for a six over wide mid-on. Next ball Roach was too straight, creamed through the onside to the boundary.
Sudden start of fire
Rohit was also in good spirits and the Indian innings got off to a more acceptable start than would be acceptable in a T20 game. The scoring rate was in the high 10s after four overs, reaching 50 off just 34 balls.
Shannon Gabriel and Kirk McKenzie avoided what are described as sitters at international level and the West Indian fielders did their best to hold on to the hosts with Shannon Gabriel the beneficiary of Rohit on both occasions.
Day 4’s stop-start proceedings showed where the West Indies are as a Test team, competing against the top teams only at isolated times without accurately picking up significant passes of the game. And when push comes to shove, they falter as they did on Day 4 – their lower order faltering, their bowling and fielding succumbing to the onslaught of the Indian openers.
As the focus of the fielding side moves away from getting wickets, it frees up the batsmen to not care about field placements. West Indies skipper Brathwaite spread his men far too quickly, though for some reason the third man was kept unhired. Boundaries, fours and sixes and every other delivery seemed to be coming from either side of the wicket, treating the West Indies pace bowlers with utter contempt.
Left-arm spinner Jomal Warrican was the hosts’ best bowler in the series, but Brathwaite was, inexplicably, reluctant to bring him on despite everyone going for the cleaners. Perhaps he was content to take maximum time out of the game as fast bowlers take longer to complete their overs.
Rohit finally got out before the first rain interruption of the day brought an early lunch. When Warwick was brought on after the restart, he immediately had Jaiswal, who went for a big run. Shubman Gill, who had not had a productive streak, remained unbeaten on 29, replacing Virat Kohli with Kishan at number four.
Siraj is not a Test veteran by any stretch of the imagination, but his wobble-seam delivery has already become a potent weapon. He got one to snake through the gap between bat and pad to dismiss Joshua da Silva on Saturday, returning to run the West Indies lower order quickly on the fourth morning. After Mukesh did the crucial job of getting the impressive Alik Athanase through an lbw call, Siraj showed his ability to get another overnight batsman, Jason Holder, by going outside the crease, leaving the tall right-hander at an angle and forcing an edge to wicketkeeper Kishan.
The rest offered little resistance. Alzari Joseph and Gabriel were trapped in front of the wobble-seam in-duckers and Roach fell to a full wide ball. Siraj returned figures of 5/60, his best in Test cricket, as the West Indies’ tail-end vulnerability came to the fore again. Neither Jasprit Bumrah nor Mohammed Shami are in the Caribbean squad this time, Siraj is the most experienced seamer in the XI and has led from the front. While there are more experienced pairs available to choose from, he has ensured that his name is always in the reckoning if more than two quicks are needed.