Batting big first up is the key

M. S. Dhoni and V. V. S. Laxman rubbed salt into the Caribbean wounds.-PTI

India was able to stick to its regular home strategy of piling up huge runs and making the opposition bat twice. K.C. Vijaya Kumar reports.

The regular signposts at the Eden Gardens — centuries by Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman — were again on full view and with M.S. Dhoni (144) adding to the mirth, India was able to stick to its regular home strategy of piling up huge runs and making the opposition bat twice.

The plan worked well though the West Indies regained a touch of self-belief in the second innings while following-on to delay the inevitable defeat in the second Test that concluded in Kolkata on November 17. Darren Sammy's men failed to erase the 478-run first innings deficit and India gained an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

India won by an innings and 15 runs and the culmination after the fourth day's lunch break, came a bit late unlike the run of play that was seen right from the moment Dhoni won the toss and opted to bat on a sluggish pitch. The decision was fully validated by a first innings score of 631 for seven that also helped Dhoni to declare and amplify the pressure on the visitors right from the second evening.

The West Indies' reply blended an inept first innings (153) with a we-have-spine second outing (463), which came too late in the tussle.

Rahul Dravid struck it rich yet again.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag slammed 66 runs in 12.1 overs and that was an ideal platform for Dravid and Laxman to reiterate their ties with a turf that during the summer of 2001, witnessed their epic battle against the Australians.

Dravid (119, 207b, 9x4, 2x6) played his innings at a steady clip right through and his 36th overall and fifth ton this year, embellished solidity with two sixes. “Preparing for the Indian Premier League,” quipped Dravid in a light-hearted way when asked about his first instance of striking two sixes in a single Test innings. The humour though was lost on the aggrieved bowlers — Devendra Bishoo and Marlon Samuels.

The key segment in the Indian innings was the 140-run fourth-wicket partnership that Dravid chiselled with Laxman (176 n.o., 280b, 12x4) and it helped the team gloss over the start-and-stop knocks dished out by Sehwag, Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar. Dravid was set for more when he became Kraigg Brathwaite's maiden Test wicket while the shadows lengthened on the opening day but Laxman ensured that India continued to march sedately.

Laxman's 17th hundred, that put him on a par with Dilip Vengsarkar, had its shades of poetry but prose too was evident as he gracefully nudged his singles and twos and gave Dhoni (144, 175b, 10x4, 5x6) the freedom to free his arms. The sunshine flick and that rare I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world pull were all essayed as he fully embraced a Test century after a gap of 15 matches and 28 innings.

Like all his centuries that leads to an incremental string of partnerships, the latest milestone too had its share of mid-pitch conferences and mutual-admiration clubs. Along with Dhoni, Laxman added 224 runs for the seventh wicket and it was a fusion that undid those minor blips of Yuvraj Singh's inability to bat like a specialist and Ishant Sharma's duck.

The pedigree shows. Century-maker Darren Bravo is related to Brain Lara.-PTI

An odd inner-edge that squirted past the stumps was the lone blemish in Laxman's unvanquished 394-minute vigil while Dhoni's was the tale of a charmed life gradually finding certainty and flourish. The Indian skipper was twice ‘caught behind' off Kemar Roach. The speedster could only freeze his smile as the ‘wickets' emerged out of no-balls! “I was out thrice to Roach,” Dhoni said later in a reference to his eventual dismissal by the Caribbean fast bowler.

However until that snick emanating from a legitimate delivery, there was no stopping Dhoni as he smote the bowlers and patiently waited for Laxman to finish his interlude between overs — tapping the crease for eternity. Dhoni's fifth century, proved to be another corner-stone upon which India built its first innings. The West Indies collapsed on the third day in a first innings that lacked self-belief. The batsmen played within the crease and never looked to impose their will against a young Indian attack led by Ishant Sharma. Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha grabbed four wickets while R. Ashwin pegged back Shivnarine Chanderpaul and out in the press box, a few mulled about advancing their return tickets.

The match was not over yet and the visitors gave a better account of themselves in their second innings. Adrian Barath and Kirk Edwards batted with refreshing freedom. “We learnt from our mistakes and applied ourselves,” Barath said. Darren Bravo (136, 230b, 16x4, 4x4) then extended the match deep into the fourth day while helming crucial partnerships with Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels (84).

Bravo built a bridge between a southpaw's inherent grace and a middle-order batsman's expected cement-and-mortar approach and his second Test hundred had streaks of his acclaimed relative Brian Lara though these are early days for the 22-year old player. The match's eventual climax hustled in once Bravo and Samuels fell while Sammy lashed a few sixes before Umesh Yadav silenced the tail.

THE SCORES

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Barath b Edwards 65, V. Sehwag c Barath b Sammy 38, R. Dravid b Brathwaite 119, S. Tendulkar c Samuels b Bishoo 38, V.V.S. Laxman (not out) 176, Ishant Sharma c Baugh b Roach 0, Yuvraj lbw b Sammy 25, M.S. Dhoni c Baugh b Roach 144, R. Ashwin (not out) 4. Extras (b-6, lb-5, w-2, nb-9): 22; Total (for seven wkts., decl. in 151.2 overs): 631.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-149, 3-205, 4-345, 5-346, 6-396, 7-620.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 22.2-1-81-1, Sammy 25-0-132-2, Roach 26-1-106-2, Samuels 27-0-104-0, Bishoo 45-2-154-1, Brathwaite 6-0-43-1.

West Indies — 1st innings: A. Barath c Sehwag b Yadav 1, K. Brathwaite c Gambhir b Ashwin 17, K. Edwards lbw b Ojha 16, D. Bravo b Yadav 30, S. Chanderpaul lbw b Ashwin 4, M. Samuels b Yadav 25, C. Baugh lbw b Ojha 13, D. Sammy c Dhoni b Ojha 18, K. Roach (run out) 2, F. Edwards lbw b Ojha 16, D. Bishoo (not out) 8. Extras (lb-3): 3; Total (all out in 48 overs): 153.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-30, 3-42, 4-46, 5-92, 6-99, 7-120, 8-129, 9-129.

India bowling: Ojha 22-5-64-4, Yadav 7-1-23-3, Ashwin 14-3-49-2, Ishant 5-2-14-0.

West Indies — 2nd innings: A. Barath c Laxman b Ishant 62, K. Brathwaite c Dhoni b Yadav 9, K. Edwards lbw b Ishant 60, D. Bravo c Dravid b Ojha 136, S. Chanderpaul b Yadav 47, M. Samuels lbw b Ashwin 84, C. Baugh c Dravid b Ojha 3, D. Sammy b Yadav 32, K. Roach b Ashwin 1, F. Edwards (not out) 15, D. Bishoo b Yadav 0. Extras (b-9, lb-4, w-1): 14; Total (all out in 126.3 overs): 463.

Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-116, 3-161, 4-269, 5-401, 6-411, 7-417, 8-421, 9-463.

India bowling: Yadav 17.3-1-80-4, Ishant 25-4-95-2, Ojha 32-5-104-2, Ashwin 40-4-137-2, Yuvraj 3-0-14-0, Sehwag 9-2-20-0.