The Wall stands tall

I like it when the pitch offers a measure of help to the bowlers. That is what makes the contest interesting. If the batsmen dominate all the time, then the match becomes rather one-dimensional - Rahul Dravid.-AP

The margin of India's victory in the opening Test of the three-match series — by 63 runs — highlights the value of Dravid's 32nd Test hundred. S. Dinakar reports.

Old soldiers never die. Rahul Dravid's 112 of concentration, technical attributes and the ability to bring about subtle changes to his game to bat on a trying surface of inconsistent bounce at Sabina Park underlined his durability.

In energy sapping heat, Dravid batted over seven hours displaying his fitness and desire. Sweat dripped down his face but Dravid's focus never wavered.

“I still love the energy that a Test match brings with it. I still relish the anticipation ahead of the match, I still have butterflies in my stomach,” said the genial Dravid ahead of the Test. The famous Sabina Park is a venue that stokes the combative instincts of Dravid. The surface here invariably has something in it for the bowlers.

“I like it when the pitch offers a measure of help to the bowlers. That is what makes the contest interesting. If the batsmen dominate all the time, then the match becomes rather one-dimensional,” said Dravid.

This was the fourth visit of India's all-weather man to Kingston for a Test. Dravid, now 38, was up for the challenge.

“I don't drop Dravid again maan,” said West Indian captain Darren Sammy after the Test. Indeed, when Sammy put down a regulation offering at second slip when paceman Ravi Rampaul forced an edge from Dravid, West Indies had dropped the match. Dravid, then, was only on six in the Indian second innings.

The margin of India's victory in the opening Test of the three-match series — by 63 runs — highlights the value of Dravid's 32nd Test hundred.

Interestingly, Dravid had walked out to bat for the first time in Tests at Lord's in 1996. The technically refined batsman made a high quality 95 against an incisive English attack. Fifteen years later, Dravid came up with a priceless Test hundred in a low-scoring Test that twisted and turned.

Despite the passage of time, he has kept the fire burning and is still hungry on the Test arena. “I admire the back-to-the-wall situations. You are more focussed, want to do your best for the team in a crisis situation.” said Dravid.

He batted with great purity of methods in the Test. His stance was balanced and poised, there were occasions when he straightened his back-lift to cope with a surface of inconsistent bounce. And he was decisive in his footwork. Dravid either went fully forward or moved right back to meet the ball. He was rarely caught at the crease.

When the delivery was on a length or pitched up, he played with the full face of the bat and collected runs with push-drives between extra cover and a straightish mid-wicket. Driving on the rise was a risky proposition on this surface since the ball tended to stop.

Only when the ball was lacking in length did he venture into the horizontal bat strokes. And he waited for the ball to be on his middle and leg stump before essaying those wristy flicks. Dravid swayed away from the short-pitched deliveries without taking his eyes off the ball. And when the pacey Fidel Edwards directed lifting deliveries on to his rib-cage, Dravid rose on his toes to keep the ball down with soft hands. This was classical Test match batting.

A depleted Indian side found the right answers in a tense game that swung one way, then the other.

India, electing to bat, had lost six wickets for little over 80 when Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh put the innings back on the road with a counter-attacking 146-run stand. This was another critical phase of the match.

Raina, who is deeply inspired by Dravid, is handling the short-pitched bowling better these days. He had a clear game-plan — to duck under the lifting deliveries.

The left-handed Raina also disrupted the promising Devendra Bishoo's line after the leg-spinner had made major inroads into the Indian innings on day one. Raina's 82 contained a few pleasing drives down the ground. He did bat with a straight willow for most part.

Harbhajan, another cricketer, who loves the sniff of a combat, contributed a robust 70; this was a momentum changing innings under pressure. Another positive for India was the swing bowling of debutant Praveen Kumar. He might have run into a few serious problems — Praveen was banned from bowling in the rest of the Indian first innings after receiving his third official warning for running on to the danger area — but struck telling blows.

The quality of Praveen's late movement — both into the right-hander and away — with the old ball demanded attention. In the process, the paceman from Uttar Pradesh rubbished doubters who believed he could only operate effectively with the new ball. Praveen used the crease to harness the angles and varied his pace. The clever bowler opened up batsmen time and again with his outswingers. And he shifted his line admirably to the southpaws. Seeing that the left-handed Darren Bravo was moving too far across and leaving his leg-stump exposed, Praveen, switching to round the wicket, took out Bravo's leg-stump.

Given his whippy, wrist action, the batsmen struggled to pick the ball at the point of release. It was Praveen's spell on the afternoon of day two that swung the match India's way when the game appeared to be in the balance.

Another debutant, the left-handed Abhinav Mukund, has possibilities. The southpaw was sure about his off-stump, got solidly behind the line of the ball and handled the short-pitched delivery capably. He did not quite kick on after the start in the second innings but Mukund sent the right signals.

Virat Kohli, the third Indian debutant in the Test, was given a torrid time by a charged-up Edwards in the second innings. Edwards worked up genuine pace and harried Kohli with deliveries that climbed into his body. Coping with such a line of attack is an aspect Kohli will need to work on.

Edwards' pace partner, the lively Ravi Rampaul, moved the ball away in a telling fashion and operated tirelessly for long periods. Lion-hearted, he certainly is. And Bishoo out-bowled the Indian spinners. He was quicker through the air but bowled with control and repeatedly beat the bat with deliveries spinning away. Bishoo has a potent top-spinner but needs to develop the googly that would make him a bigger threat.

Skipper Sammy — under scrutiny with many questioning his place in the XI — bowled his seamers with accuracy. What he lacks in pace, Sammy makes up with his control and deviation off the surface. However, Sammy's critics have a point. If the speedy Kemar Roach had played in Sammy's slot, the West Indies attack would have possessed a lot more thrust and firepower.

The West Indies batting disappointed in both the innings. Considering, the vulnerability of its line-up, a chase of 326 in the fourth innings was always going to be too much for the host.

Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo showed flashes of brilliance before making an untimely departure from the crease. The fact that it was the tailenders who whittled down India's victory margin is a sad commentary on the West Indian batting.

THE SCORES

First Test, Kingston, Jamaica, June 20-23, 2011. India won by 63 runs.

India — 1st innings: A. Mukund b Rampaul 11; M. Vijay c Bishoo b Rampaul 8; R. Dravid c Sammy b Bishoo 40; V. V. S. Laxman c Sammy b Bishoo 12; V. Kohli c Baugh b Edwards 4; S. Raina c Bishoo b Rampaul 82; M. Dhoni c Simmons b Bishoo 0; Harbhajan Singh c Bishoo b Edwards 70; Praveen Kumar lbw b Edwards 4; A. Mishra c Sarwan b Edwards 6; Ishant Sharma (not out) 0; Extras (b-1, lb-2, nb-6) 9. Total: 246.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-30, 3-64, 4-69, 5-83, 6-85, 7-231, 8-236, 9-246.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 16-1-56-4; Rampaul 18.2-2-59-3; Sammy 13-3-42-0; Bishoo 11-2-75-3; Simmons 2-0-8-0; Nash 1-0-3-0.

West Indies — 1st innings: A. Barath c Dhoni b Praveen 64; L. Simmons c Vijay b Ishant 3; R. Sarwan lbw b Ishant 3; D. M. Bravo c Dhoni b Praveen 18; S. Chanderpaul c Mukund b Harbhajan 23; B. Nash c Raina b Praveen 1; C. Baugh c Vijay b Harbhajan 27; D. Sammy b Ishant 1; R. Rampaul (not out) 14; F. Edwards c Dhoni b Mishra 7; D. Bishoo c Raina b Mishra 4; Extras (b-1, lb-3, nb-4) 8. Total: 173.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-35, 3-91, 4-95, 5-102, 6-147, 7-148, 8-152, 9-169.

India bowling: Praveen 18-5-38-3; Ishant 17-6-29-3; Mishra 13.5-1-51-2; Harbhajan 19-5-51-2.

India — 2nd innings: A. Mukund c Baugh b Bishoo 25; M. Vijay lbw b Rampaul 0; R. Dravid c Sarwan b Bishoo 112; V. V. S. Laxman c & b Sammy 0; V. Kohli c Baugh b Edwards 15; S. Raina c Sammy b Bishoo 27; M. Dhoni c Edwards b Bishoo 16; Harbhajan Singh lbw b Sammy 5; Praveen Kumar b Sammy 0; A. Mishra c Bravo b Sammy 28; Ishant Sharma (not out) 5; Extras (b-8, lb-2, nb-9) 19. Total: 252.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-56, 3-57, 4-100, 5-148, 6-166, 7-183, 8-183, 9-239.

West Indies bowling: Edwards 20-1-70-1; Rampaul 22-3-49-1; Sammy 27-11-52-4; Bishoo 24.5-2-65-4; Nash 1-0-6-0.

West Indies — 2nd innings: A. Barath c Raina b Praveen 38; L. Simmons b Ishant 27; R. Sarwan c Kohli b Ishant 0; D. M. Bravo b Praveen 41; S. Chanderpaul c Raina b Praveen 30; B. Nash lbw b Mishra 9; C. Baugh c Kohli b Harbhajan 0; D. Sammy c Laxman b Mishra 25; R. Rampaul c Dhoni b Ishant 34; F. Edwards (not out) 15; D. Bishoo b Raina 26; Extras (b-1, lb-13, w-2, nb-1) 17. Total: 262.

Fall of wickets: 1-62, 2-63, 3-80, 4-148, 5-149, 6-150, 7-181, 8-188, 9-223.

India bowling: Praveen 16-3-42-3; Ishant 17-3-81-3; Mishra 13-1-62-2; Harbhajan Singh 16-3-54-1; Raina 6.2-1-9-1.