The new moon factor, as old as the hills

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

IN Guyana, the new moon factor still works. "They (cricket authorities) need to check with us before making the programme. We were sure it would rain," said the local weatherman, an old gentleman. Gazing into the distance, he spotted dark clouds and painted a gloomy picture for cricket lovers.

The new moon fell on April 13. And legend has it that three days before or after the new moon it must rain. The modern pundits refused to accept the prediction of the local weatherman. "It doesn't work anymore," said one of the officials.

Carl Hooper cracked his maiden double century in Tests.-V. V. KRISHNAN

It worked. The new moon brought disaster to the match as it poured on the final day, transforming the Bourda into a lake. The teams did not come to the ground. For many, it was a welcome respite. If one man was not happy with the last day's play being washed out, it was Rahul Dravid. He lost a golden opportunity to score his second double century in Tests.

The Bourda has had a history of only drawn encounters between India and the West Indies, this being the sixth draw for the teams in six meetings here. Rain and placid tracks had contributed in the past to make the matches dull. It was no different this time, too.

Not even two innings could be completed. The West Indies amassed 501 and the Indians replied strongly through Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman, not to forget the valuable knock by Sarandeep Singh.

It was a match dominated by batsmen. The West Indians stuck to their plan of banking on their batsmen since it was a good track to make runs. It was underlined by the manner in which Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul notched their career-best scores. The Indian bowling was put to test and later it was the batting which faced the challenge from the West Indian fast bowlers.

There was not much for the bowlers though in the pitch. There were occasions when the ball kept low and at times it skidded. For Dravid, it was a different experience when he ducked into a bouncer from Mervyn Dillon. He was saved from a serious injury only because the grill of the helmet took the impact.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul indulged in some calculated strokeplay to score his second hundred against India.-V. V. KRISHNAN

"I didn't pick it," he said honestly. Though his jaw was swollen it was his brave act of not leaving the field which stood as the defining moment of the match. "I didn't want to leave the field at that point because the team needed me out there. It was painful no doubt but I took some painkillers and just batted on," said Dravid.

Hooper too batted on. His first century on home ground swelled into his maiden double century in Tests. It was a remarkable comeback for a man who was not welcome in some parts of the West Indies for having deserted the team before the last World Cup. There had been strong criticism at Hooper being appointed the captain. But now there was strong appreciation for his commitment to West Indies cricket.

The double century by Hooper meant a lot to the team. It meant a lot to him too but he put the team ahead of his own personal achievements. "I had waited 15 years for this moment . I was nervous in my nineties but not after I got my century," said the West Indian skipper.

One of the high points of this match was Hooper's domination of Anil Kumble. It was a rare experience for the Indian leg-spinner, who is known not to stray in line. But Kumble was too erratic in this Test and came in for severe punishment from Hooper and Chanderpaul. Even Hooper was surprised by the easy boundaries conceded by Kumble, who was hit for three sixes by the West Indian skipper.

Hooper did make a shocking revelation that the off-spinner (Sarandeep) did not turn a ball. But it was Sarandeep who broke a stubborn partnership when he got rid of Ramnaresh Sarwan. With Harbhajan Singh missing the match due to a shoulder injury, the onus was on Sarandeep but there was nothing in the pitch to help the Delhi off-spinner, who, however, made a handsome contribution with the bat in the company of Dravid.

Rahul Dravid took upon himself the task of steering India to safety. He was undefeated on 144 when the rain came.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The ball had become too soft but there was no excuse for the manner in which the Indians allowed the game to drift after some exceptionally accurate bowling by Javagal Srinath. His three-wicket burst in the first session of the match was a big boost to the team, especially when he snared Brian Lara. It was another matter that Lara got a harsh decision. It was good for the Indians because he would have been devastating on this track had he got going.

The West Indians thrived on the contributions from Hooper, Chanderpaul and Sarwan. Even as Hooper paced his knock well, it was Chanderpaul who triggered off the charge with some very calculated strokeplay. It was a refreshing change as far as Chanderpaul was concerned. He was no more a grafter as he went after the bowlers, especially Sarandeep. Once Chanderpaul gained in confidence, it was smooth going for this left-hander, who hit his second century against India, and his third overall.

"It was great to score the runs in front of the home crowd, my friends and family. I enjoyed the knock because it was tough coming back from injury. But I'm glad I could settle down quickly," said Chanderpaul. For Srinath, it must have been a frustrating experience. He lacked support from the other end even though Zaheer Khan improved his line in the latter part of the West Indian innings. Srinath enjoyed his successes and would have been happier had wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta not messed up an inside edge from Hooper. It was off the first ball that Hooper faced and the lapse proved costly indeed. Dasgupta was to grass Mahendra Nagamootoo later but then he would need to fail more for the selectors to realise their folly.

Cameron Cuffy traps Sanjay Bangar leg before for no score.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The Indians, obviously, were pleased with the result. At least they were not beginning an overseas series with a defeat in the first Test. "The draw was a good result, I thought. We were able to sort out a few shortcomings. I must give credit to Rahul (Dravid). He batted exceptionally well and with responsibility," said skipper Sourav Ganguly, who was guilty of throwing his wicket away to a clumsy stroke.

It was again Tendulkar who showed the way with an attractive innings which was terminated by a poor judgement of length. He played the pull and was foxed by the top-spinner even as the ball kept a little low. It was a needless show of aggression from Tendulkar because he had the attack at his mercy until that fatal moment.

Javagal Srinath appeals vociferously after rapping Stuart Williams on the pads. The bowler won the leg before verdict.-V. V. KRISHNAN

But the Indians were fortunate to have a determined Dravid at the crease. He conceded that he was motivated by the ease with which Laxman scored runs at the other end. "He makes batting look so easy," said Dravid of Laxman. "It was disappointing that Laxman couldn't carry on,' added Dravid.

Even though Hooper and Chanderpaul left a lasting impression on the home crowd, there was no doubt that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman lent class to the occasion with their own style. It was a match about batsmen, as it has always been at the Bourda. The flooded ground on the last day was frustrating no doubt but then there would have been little competitive flavour about it all. Once India avoided following on, there was just academic interest left in the Test match.

The scores: West Indies 501 (R. Sarwan 53, C. Hooper 233, S. Chanderpaul 140, Srinath 3-91) drew with India 395-7 (S.S. Das 33, S. Tendulkar 79, R. Dravid 144 n.o., V.V.S. Laxman 69, Sarandeep Singh 39 n.o., Cuffy 3-57).