ARG & the extraordinary

As if two world record scores — 10 YEARS APART — from Brian Lara, and the world record chase weren't enough, the ARG produced one last I-was-there moment for old times' sake. Which side took the honours? Go figure, writes S. RAM MAHESH .

This was a classic for all the right reasons. And a wrong one. The first ever Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground ended on All Fool's day in the 1980s; the last finished on 6-6-06. Blame the dates, mutter about fate, ponder geography: whatever the reason, the ARG — as it's affectionately referred to by locals — has a knack of producing the extraordinary.

As if two world record scores — 10 years apart — from Brian Lara, and the world record chase weren't enough, the ARG produced one last I-was-there moment for old times' sake. A team needed three wickets for only its fourth win in a land it has not travelled well to; it had 125 balls to do it in; it failed. The other bowled its opposition out for 241 in the first innings, took a lead of 130, and needed a man on one leg and a number eleven to bail it out on the last day. The last ball of the last day, to be precise. Which side took the honours? Go figure.

"The West Indies bowled well on the first day to restrict us, we didn't bowl too well, they got away to a start," said Indian captain Rahul Dravid. "We fought back brilliantly on the third day. We played beautifully on the fourth and bowled very well on the fifth and some of their tail-enders batted very well. So it was a great Test, went down to the last ball, and you don't play too many Test matches like this."

When a man who has played 101 Tests says this, you know you've been part of something special. Ironically, his counterpart — the protagonist of many unforgettable moments — was guilty of an eminently forgettable moment here. Much has been written about his petulant finger waggling, his snatching the ball away from umpire Asad Rauf's hand.

Lara might have thought he was upholding the spirit by making sure a batsman (Dhoni) took a fielder's (Ganga's) word. What he said about the incident indicated as much: "I just thought that the spirit of the game was being tested and as human beings we all make mistakes and at the end of the day we all want to work towards the betterment of the game. But, I think it took a little too long, 15 minutes and 24 big men in the sport to come to a proper decision. I think it was ridiculous.

"Just be men, be sportsmen. At the end of the day, it's a sport you are playing. You've got to trust your competitor, the guy you're playing against. There are situations when the umpires can't come to a decision. And I feel really and truly that if we can't back each other on the field even though we are not from the same team, it doesn't say much for the sport." But, in taking matters into his hands, Lara did little to safeguard the spirit he was desirous of protecting. It was unfortunate that the incident tarnished an excellent Test; perhaps it was that bit of imperfection that was needed to validate the match's credentials as a classic.

For the cricket was riveting. Wasim Jaffer will struggle to bat better than he did in the second innings — V. V. S. Laxman, who knows a thing or two about being in the zone for an extended period, said he could see the opener from Mumbai was. Jaffer became only the fourth Indian to score a double hundred in the Caribbean after Dilip Sardesai, Sunil Gavaskar and Navjot Sidhu.

"It was a brilliant double hundred," said Dravid, who made a crucial second-innings 62 himself. "Some of shots he played on a track where it wasn't easy to play shots were beautiful. What I liked about him was the way he went on. He has carried on his concentration.

"One of the things with Wasim when he came into the side early was he tended to be loose and throw his wicket away after he got starts. It's great to see that he has come back and corrected it. He has been very determined this time around and that is good to see. It is important for him to be consistent now — he has got all the tools to be successful at this level."

For West Indies, Corey Colleymore bowled an exceptional spell on the first day: he showed what control, and just the right amounts of movement can achieve on good Test strip. Dwayne Bravo after four wickets in the first, produced a half-century that was Caribbean in conception and execution.

Chris Gayle played an innings of admirable restraint in the second to deny India, till a hamstrung Edwards did one better, hanging in for over 10 overs with a runner. Yet, he could do little about the last over, which number eleven Colleymore kept out.

Munaf Patel was India's best fast-medium bowler in the Test. He may have reduced in pace as the day wore on, but he bowled few bad balls. V. R. V. Singh — on debut — impressed in spurts. As his confidence grew, he upped his airspeed and achieved steepling bounce. Sreesanth had an awful first innings, but he picked Sarwan and Lara in the second.

These young bowlers must be given time and not hyped up unnecessarily as Dravid cautioned. By leaving Pathan out, the team management showed it isn't set with its strategy or its combination. The best at that moment get a go — no rocket science that — but this facet hasn't always been evident in Indian cricket.

The track deserves the last word for rarely does sparkling cricket come about on dead tracks. It stuck as closely as possible to the exemplar — bounce throughout; seam movement through the first day and a half; seam movement with the new ball on all days; excellent batting conditions on days three and four; a hint of turn for the spinners on the last day, but nothing remotely untoward.