The injury to Kumble proves advantageous to the host

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE West Indians ought to be grateful to Mervyn Dillon. His rising delivery which struck Anil Kumble provided the West Indians the escape route. Of course all this is in hindsight, because none expected the pitch to break in the manner in which it did on the last two days at the Antigua Recreation Ground at St. John's. If the fourth Test ended in a draw, it was mainly because the Indian team did not have a spinner to exploit the deteriorating pitch.

"Honestly, I never thought the pitch would break like this and leave so many rough spots. If only we had Anil we would've won the match", said India skipper Sourav Ganguly.

Ajay Ratra, the Man of the Match.-V. V. KRISHNAN

What an irony it was! The same man thought Kumble was not good enough to bowl in the Tests at Port of Spain and Bridgetown. And now he was missing the leg-spinner badly after he had suffered a broken jaw and left for home. Dillon it was who sent Kumble home with a nasty ball that crashed into the grill of the helmet. Kumble was shaken as he staggered from the blow, spat blood, recovered and continued to bat. He did fall, fending another short ball, but his return to the field on the third morning was a saga of courage.

Some of the legends in the commentators' box were moved to see the fantastic gesture of Kumble when he returned to the field, his face strapped in bandage to hold his jaw. It was painful no doubt, but Kumble looked at his utility as a bowler in the middle where his colleagues were struggling to snatch the initiative.

The Indian team had shown a lot of character in batting where Wasim Jaffer, V. V. S. Laxman, Ajay Ratra and Rahul Dravid came up with outstanding innings. "My motivation came from them. It came from Ratra's wonderful performance. I thought I had to go in the middle and serve the team when it needed me. It was pointless sitting in the pavilion," said Kumble as he came out to a standing ovation.

Many heroic acts have enriched the history of the game and Kumble joined the list with this selfless show which evoked respect from every quarter. Harbhajan Singh was moved to tears as he described his feelings for his spin guru. "It was a great act, a great show of character," said Harbhajan.

V. V. S. Laxman bailed India out of trouble with a double century partnership for the seventh wicket with Ratra.-V. V. KRISHNAN

There was a concerted effort by the team to make the most of Kumble's presence and he responded by claiming the wicket of Brian Lara. It was a moment to cherish as the fielders converged on Kumble and Lara began his trudge back to the pavilion. The leg-spinner was in his element and should have had Carl Hooper twice. First the West Indies skipper survived a shout for leg-before and then he was caught off a no-ball. Kumble was shattered. "It would've been great to have had Hooper out. His dismissal would've put the team on top," said Kumble.

Hooper survived to slam his 13th Test century and the third of the series. He motivated Shivnarine Chanderpaul to score his third century of the series, too, and then Ridley Jacobs joined the act by hitting his second Test century. In a splendid gesture, Jacobs dedicated his century to "all the mothers in the world."

The high scoring by both the teams once again led to a debate on the quality of pitches in the Caribbean. The one at Antigua came in for criticism for its docile nature and Hooper made a critical remark when he said it was not an ideal pitch for playing good cricket. "It's not disappointing but it should've been better," said Hooper.

Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer shrugged off the early loss of Shiv Sundar Das with a big century stand.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The India skipper, Ganguly, however, praised his bowlers. "They were willing to bend their back even on a docile pitch and that's a good sign," said Ganguly, who justified his action of playing with three seam bowlers.

The match was destined to end in a dull draw once the West Indies responded strongly to the Indian challenge. The thrust came from expected quarters when Hooper, Chanderpaul and Jacobs made merry against a flagging Indian attack. It was a mockery of the game when Ratra took off his pads to bowl one over and then resumed his wicket-keeping. The Indians were right in preserving their main bowlers, but it made little sense in asking Ratra to bowl in a Test match.

Ratra stood out with his batting which saw him hit a century in his third Test. He promptly gave credit to Laxman, who scored his third Test century. In fact, Laxman was the guiding factor and his form only reflected the man's resolve to come good in his second visit to the Caribbean.

Andrew Leipus gives Anil Kumble a bandage to hold the bowler's broken jaw in place. It was indeed brave of Kumble to come out and bowl despite his injury.-V. V. KRISHNAN

"I was determined to hit a century in the West Indies and it was always a dream. I'm so happy to have contributed when the team needed the runs. I was also happy for Ratra. He's always impressed us with his determination and it's good for him and the team that he got runs. He's a good wicketkeeper and I'm very happy for him," said Laxman about his young partner.

The failure of Sachin Tendulkar was bound to create a debate. His first-ball dismissal to left-arm seamer Pedro Collins saw the stadium erupt in frenzied celebration. It was quite unusual of Tendulkar to reach for the ball. He was so keen to get his bat to the ball that all he earned was an edge. This was after Jaffer and Dravid had retrieved the situation with their disciplined batting, the team having lost the struggling Shiv Sundar Das early.

Jaffer, the Mumbai opener, cemented his place with an aggressive innings which came in for praise from Ganguly. "He looks a quality player because he has so much time to play fast bowling." A pity this batsman was languishing for two years after having played two Tests against South Africa at home in 2000.

The fourth Test was eminently forgettable. It did produce five centuries and plenty of runs were scored, but the pace was slow and the cricket overall was not exciting.

The scores : India 513-9 decl. (Jaffer 86, Dravid 91, Ganguly 45, Laxman 130, Ratra 115 n.o., Dillon 3-116, Cuffy 3-87, Collins 3-125) drew with West Indies 629-9 (Gayle 32, Hinds 65, Sarwan 51, Hooper 136, Chanderpaul 136 n.o., Jacobs 118, Dillon 43).

"The biggest gain from this Test"

WHEN he stepped out to bat, Ajay Ratra knew it would be a gigantic task. A failure would have certainly put him out of contention for the next Test at Jamaica. Here the situation was ideal for him to show his mettle. And he did it with a century in only his third Test.

Andy Roberts was the adjudicator for the 'Man of the Match' award and he picked the right man. It was the pressure which counted and not just the fact that Ratra had got a century or whether four others too had scored hundreds. A few spectators expressed their displeasure at Ridley Jacobs or Carl Hooper not being given the award, but it did not matter.

Ratra had worked hard for this honour. "I knew the pressure was great but I also knew that if I did well here I would have justified the faith the selectors have reposed in me. I was very keen to do something for the team," said Ratra.

He dedicated the award to his late cousin Sachin. "He died of cancer, but he was a great cricket enthusiast. I remembered him during the moment I got the century," said Ratra.

There must be a man - Sarkar Talwar - very happy at the progress made by Ratra. The former Haryana off-spinner, Talwar, had worked tirelessly with this lad who came to his coaching centre at the Nahar Singh Stadium, Faridabad, with a lot of hope. And Ratra did not disappoint his mentor. He scored a century when it mattered.

"I enjoyed the company of Laxman because he guided me so well during the difficult period. I was very nervous in the middle, but Laxman gave me the confidence and wanted me to do well," said Ratra.

Having waited in the wings for some time, Ratra managed to cement his place with this century. His tidy work behind the stumps had impressed coach John Wright a lot. "He's quite a gutsy young man," said Wright of the 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman from Haryana.

The team gained a reliable batsman in the lower middle-order and a competent wicketkeeper, too, in Ratra. "He was the biggest gain from this Test," admitted skipper Sourav Ganguly. It was not a bad choice that Andy Roberts had made. Ratra deserved to be the 'Man of the Match' for his sheer guts.