THOSE VITAL 90 OVERS...

VIRENDER SEHWAG laid the foundation.-AP

Live green grass had tricked Lara into picking four fast-medium men. The pitch turned out to be slow and low — difficult to score quick runs on, equally difficult to take wickets, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

The gathering of rain clouds over the Beausejour Cricket Ground on the fourth day of the second Test could have been the defining moment of the series. Not to put too fine a point on it, but India would most likely have won the match had the rain stayed away.

The visiting side needed nine wickets in a minimum of 180 overs; they got seven in 119 after 90 were erased. "We almost won the match in four days," said Dravid. "Had we not lost those 90 overs we would have had a good chance of winning. We got 17 wickets in 200 overs and made 588 on the same wicket at four an over. We can take a lot of heart that we dominated for four days."

The final day was another tense affair much like the first Test in Antigua. There West Indies had hung on by a wicket. The hero at St. Lucia was Brian Lara, who made a 307-ball 120 after walking out at number three to deny India on the fifth day. "This innings was something definitely different," said Lara. "I was still able to get a hundred in two sessions. Looking at my innings before this, I was out to rash shots. So, I just wanted to get past the first 50 or 60 balls. It was an innings I enjoyed, and an innings I learnt from.

"Yeah, it's a different mind-set. My batting is attacking. I am more likely to set up matches than save them. But, I learnt a lot from my batting today. I'm not sure how many innings I've played in the past which are like this. The number of balls I played, I'd have been on 250."

The Indians had many close shouts for leg-before against Lara: at least two were dead-eye certain. Decisions going against a team are part of cricket — India didn't complain — but in a four-day game every little bit matters. Ironic perhaps — and maybe even poetic justice — that when Lara did cop a leg-before decision it was wrong. His pad was outside off-stump, and the ball would have missed off in any event.

Even at that stage, India had a chance. It had over 20 overs to get five wickets — two in quick succession and panic could have set in. But, Bravo watched out the critical phase, and then Bradshaw soaked up 40 balls for his one to avert danger.

India had put itself in a commanding position thanks to excellent cricket over three days. The batting clicked: Virender Sehwag, Dravid, and Mohammad Kaif made different centuries on a track that had a deceptive facade.

Live green grass had tricked Lara into picking four fast-medium men. The pitch turned out to be slow and low — difficult to score quick runs on, equally difficult to take wickets. India's performance in both departments — viewed in that context — looks even more impressive.

Sehwag came within a whisker of becoming the first Indian to score a hundred before lunch — he missed it by a run on day one. "I knew no Indian had made a century before lunch, so I was disappointed at not getting it," he said before adding the pre and post-ball routines psychologist Dr. Rudi Webster suggested had helped.

Dravid's innings was another immaculate conception. Until he chased the widest long hop imaginable, he had done enough to reiterate that he belonged among the greatest of all time. But, the most important hundred was Kaif's maiden effort. The 25-year-old from Allahabad has been India's nearly man in Test cricket — an injury after two half-centuries against Australia in 2004 didn't aid his effort to infiltrate the elite Indian middle order.

After a match-saving 91 against England in the first Test earlier this year, he was left out — the five-bowler theory's collateral damage. With his performance in the second Test — following his unbeaten 46 in the second innings of the first Test — Kaif may have come of age in the five-day format.

India's bowling was pegged around the impressive Munaf Patel and the great Anil Kumble, with Sehwag's off-spin being the surprise package. Munaf may not be the tear-away 150 kmph-bowler he was hyped to be: he is a lot more. He bowls between 132 and 144 kmph, hits the right regions, and cuts it both ways. And he can last long spells. Kumble bowled beautifully. He varied pace, bowled with flight, and plugged away all day on the fifth.

"Well, in this match, fortune didn't favour us — losing out on those 90 overs," said Dravid. "But, we can't get too disappointed. The part of the game that was in our hands, that we could control, we did really well. We have a reputation of not playing too well abroad. We have shown that we can. If we continue to play good cricket, we will win a Test match at some stage."