Too many mistakes

WASIM JAFFER... proving a point.-AP

WASIM JAFFER'S innings suggests that India's search for a regularopening pair is over. It is not so long ago that the captain himself wasobliged to open the innings to accommodate a battalion of supposedlygifted strokeplayers, writes PETER ROEBUCK .

Apart from Wasim Jaffer's stylish and substantial innings, India did not perform especially well in Antigua. Although the finish was exciting, the contest could not be considered an epic. Too many mistakes were made for those present to count themselves amongst the blessed. Admittedly, to err is human and to forgive divine. Nevertheless a game needs to soar before it can secure a place amongst the "Unforgettables". An exhilarating ending is not enough. Otherwise every Bollywood movie would be considered a masterpiece.

Jaffer did bat exceptionally well. Doubtless butterflies were munching away in his stomach but he managed to look serene. He plays his strokes with the unhurried mien of Edwardians as they moved around town in horse-drawn carriages. His drive through extra-cover is produced with the utmost politeness; it is a caress played with long and thin arms that seem to welcome the ball before sending it on its way.

Jaffer's innings suggests that India's search for a regular opening pair is over. It is not so long ago that the captain himself was obliged to open the innings to accommodate a battalion of supposedly gifted strokeplayers. Although not as fashionable, Jaffer may turn out to be their equal. Now it is up to the middle-order to bat with the same authority. Yuvraj Singh, with his heavy feet and slow swing, and Mohammed Kaif still have some bridges to cross. All and sundry must match the deeds of senior colleagues who have scored heavily in adversity.

Jaffer's rise means that India can concentrate on solving its other riddle — the identity of its new ball attack. None of the sturdy newcomers quite seized the moment at the Recreation Ground. Nor did any of them let the side down. Rather they hinted at menace without sustaining it. In short, they were spasmodically dangerous and a little unreliable, traits frequently detected in raw pace bowlers. To adopt racing parlance, though, every member of the trinity looked "genuine." In recent times only Irfan Pathan has set about his task in the manner of a man who might just as well be chopping trees or digging coal, a man who knows that it is hard and unglamorous work.

Considering its poor batting on the first day, a lapse that often arises straight after a one-day series, India did well to save the match. Although unable to find his silkiest touch, Rahul Dravid resisted stoically. True batsmen score runs even when form eludes them. Dravid battled away with characteristic tenacity and also retained his spark as captain. His leading spinner's inability to make the decisive breakthrough dented his hopes. His counterpart had a poor match. Brian Lara did not contribute many notches and also failed to twist the knife in a wounded opponent. The turning point of the contest came on the fourth morning as India's second wicket pair resumed with much still on their minds. West Indies needed to take early wickets and the pitch and the bowlers were fresh. Yet, Lara did not support them. Both Dravid and Jaffer edged to second slip and were spared, as the region's sole occupant was unable to grasp the distant objects.

Lara also places too many fieldsmen for backfoot strokes, which forces his swing bowlers to drop their length thereby reducing their threat. Presumably he is listening to his coach. Still, his fastest bowler was struck down midway and his team did not lose heart, so he deserves some credit. India also played purposefully in a match confirming that both sides are moving forward.