Windies give tense moments to India

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE announcement was out of place. One of the commentators claimed it was quite an exciting Test match. The last day of the match was reduced to a formality and then a farce as India plodded on and the spectators were treated to some artificial excitement. For a Test match it lacked the excitement that makes cricket an engaging game at the highest level. At best, it could be described as a keen contest.

The triumphant Indian team.-V. V. KRISHNAN

A team which had been dismissed as mediocre, gave India the jitters. The Indian 'stars' were brought down to earth by Carl Hooper and his men and it took a determined Sachin Tendulkar to save his captain the embarrassment of suffering a defeat at his home ground. Tendulkar's 31st Test hundred and V.V.S. Laxman's fourth were crafted at the right time in the series.

Tendulkar was mighty relieved because it was his first century in six Tests at the Eden Gardens. "It was such a joy," he admitted. Laxman only reaffirmed that this was his favourite ground. The 281 against Australia was followed by two quality knocks of 48 and 154 not out on this occasion.

Sachin Tendulkar cuts Chris Gayle during his valuable knock of 176 in the second essay. In fact, this was his maiden hundred at the Eden Gardens.-V. V. KRISHNAN

For Sourav Ganguly, and of course the Kolkatans, the disappointment was immense. For the skipper, a maiden Test century at the Eden Gardens was again a mirage and the silence at the venue just about summed up the widespread dejection.

V. V. S. Laxman acknowledges after reaching the three-figure mark in the second innings.-V. V. KRISHNAN

On day one, the buzz was missing. The maidan was not bustling and daily tickets were available. This was not the Eden Gardens we had known. The demands were low for many reasons. The series had been decided; the West Indians were not a force they once were; and then the security hassles drove the keen spectators away. Only the dedicated made it to the Eden Gardens where you could not carry even your lunch and water.

The Indians won the toss and with it a big advantage too. It was better to keep faith in the batsmen to show the way. So it was Sanjay Bangar, and not the stars, who excelled on the opening day with an innings of immense determination. His 77 off 197 balls was splendid by any standards and especially when you consider the fact that it was Test cricket.

Indian 'keeper Parthiv Patel takes a fine catch to dismiss Carl Hooper off Asish Nehra.-V. V. KRISHNAN

Some needless criticism for this Railways opener must have shocked the purists since Bangar was flawless. "Too slow, too defensive" moaned the experts in the television box but then how different could Bangar have batted when he had stroke-makers at the other end? And then he had instructions to follow. "Just stay there and keep one end up." That is precisely what Bangar aimed at as he held the Indian innings firm with a disciplined essay. It was not that Bangar had no strokes to offer. He hit 13 boundaries and was simply doing a job given to him. And he did it perfectly until the moment he was out to a good ball.

Harbhajan Singh is jubilant after taking the wicket of Mervyn Dillon. The batsman was out for nought.-V. V. KRISHNAN

In contrast, the Indian innings lacked the grit that Bangar displayed. Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar and Ganguly were out to poor strokes. Only Rahul Dravid suffered at the hands of the umpire when David Shepperd failed to notice the big inside edge. The nice man that he is, Dravid left the scene without any fuss. It was a rank bad decision. Dravid was to suffer a similar fate in the second innings when Asoka de Silva, not having a good series, ruled him leg-before despite an inside edge. Once again Dravid made no fuss. Two poor decisions in a match would shatter any batsman but Dravid took things in his stride quite sportingly.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul came up with a hundred. This was his fifth century against India.-V. V. KRISHNAN

So, India's innings was pepped up by Laxman and the fast-improving Parthiv Patel while J. Srinath showed his batting potential after a long time. If India could post a decent total, the credit went to Bangar, who did not deserve the needless criticism from some former cricketers, who were often jeered during their playing days for slow batting.

Wavell Hinds punishes Anil Kumble. The West Indian made exactly a hundred at the Eden Gardens.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The West Indian response was the kind which brought back memories of the days when the team dominated international cricket. An opening wicket partnership of 172 was an act which would have given the series a different course had it come at the start. Wavell Hinds' century marked the partnership where Chris Gayle too thrived through some excellent stroke play. With this kind of start, the stage was ideal for Shivnarine Chanderpaul who compiled his fifth century against India - the earlier ones being one in 1997 and three when India visited the Caribbean last.

The ease with which Chanderpaul got his runs reflected on the inconsistent Indian attack where Anil Kumble went for 169 runs, the first time he had conceded more than 150 on Indian soil. Then Harbhajan Singh earned his 11th five-wicket haul but it was not enough to prevent the West Indies from taking a big first innings lead. The men who made the Indian attack look so ordinary were Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels, who scored his maiden Test century and in the process gave an indication of his talent. Some of the strokes that Samuels played against the spinners must have gladdened Carl Hooper, a good player of spin but a failure in this Test.

Marlon Samuels too had a good time with the bat. He made 104.-V. V. KRISHNAN

If there was excitement, it came on the fourth day when West Indies collapsed in the morning and India in the afternoon before the master took over. Bangar, Sehwag, Dravid and Ganguly left cheaply. It was not a healthy score at all but then Tendulkar and Laxman came up with a record partnership for the fifth wicket and saved the day for a team which had promised to make a clean sweep of the series.

It was a good Test wicket and that was a bright spot in a series which saw the home team make the most of favourable tracks. Winning a home series with help from the curator was not the best advertisement for Indian cricket. All the talk of having sporting pitches looked so hollow. If there was a gain from the series, it was Sourav Ganguly's performance as captain. He is on course to becoming India's most successful captain.

The scores: India 358 (S. Bangar 77, V. Sehwag 35, S. Tendulkar 36, S. Ganguly 29, V.V.S. Laxman 48, P. Patel 47, J. Srinath 46, Dillon 3-82) and 471-8 (S. Tendulkar 176, V.V.S. Laxman 154 n.o., P. Patel 27, Harbhajan 26) drew with West Indies 497 (C. Gayle 88, W. Hinds 100, S. Chanderpaul 140, M. Samuels 104, Harbhajan 5-115, Kumble 3-169).

Another feather in his cap SACHIN TENDULKAR'S maiden Test century at the Eden Gardens was an event that meant so much for the little champion himself. Knowing Tendulkar, he would place this innings in the same league as say a hundred at Lord's or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He has always enjoyed playing at the Eden Gardens and this century should rank high in his list of achievements indeed. Match Referee Mike Proctor was right when he said he picked Tendulkar as Man of the Match for the quality of his innings. "I've always valued a century and this one will remain special," he said after the match. It has taken Tendulkar an unduly long time to carve a century at the Eden Gardens. The master strokemaker adapted to the challenge and curbed his natural flair. The team needed Tendulkar to hang in there and he was not averse to grafting. There were occasions when he enjoyed the freedom to play his shots but it was a remarkably disciplined knock. That it came under testing conditions showed that Tendulkar continued to enjoy the big stage. "It feels good to score a century at the Eden Gardens which is home of Indian cricket. I'm very relieved," said Tendulkar on his innings of 176. Tendulkar came across just the kind of challenge that gets the champions going. The West Indians were on top when he joined Laxman and gradually he settled down to dictate. Even in defence, Tendulkar was a delight to watch. And when he picked the ball early to place it in the gaps, the audience enjoyed it. The determination was evident in Tendulkar's approach. He had to set an example and he did it in a style that comes naturally to him. He placed the team's interest above his and the classy knock was his tribute to the grand venue. Picking up his quota, as usual TWENTY wickets in three Tests was not what Harbhajan Singh was aiming for. His sights were set on much greater conquests but then the Man of the Series award did boost his spirits. ''It always feels good to contribute to the team's victory and I'm happy that we won the series," said Harbhajan, who did not give much importance to individual achievements. "I've always believed in being a team-man and I would say this was a victory for the team. Individuals don't count when the team wins," said Harbhajan, showing signs of maturity. At the start of the series, Harbhajan had set a target. He had charged himself to play a matchwinning role. The act at Mumbai must have satisfied him and a successive five-wicket haul at Kolkata proved that the wily off-spinner was peaking towards achieving his goal. As he confessed, Harbhajan would have enjoyed the success more had he bowled to Brian Lara. "Quality opposition brings out the best out of you," he said but then he failed to get past the determined Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the last Test. Harbhajan values his wickets and nothing would have pleased him more than getting Chanderpaul out cheaply. At Mumbai, Harbhajan finished with one wicket in the first innings but scalped seven in the second. The spell came on a helpful track and Harbhajan was not the one to allow such opportunities go by. At Chennai, Harbhajan claimed three wickets in the first innings and four in the second and this time he was adjudged the Man of the Match. He still had not snared Chanderpaul. When the caravan travelled to Kolkata, Harbhajan was very keen to get his man. It was a fascinating battle no doubt as Harbhajan tested the left-hander, who also stood firm. At the end of it, Harbhajan managed five wickets but his victims did not include Chanderpaul. It did rankle him, but then overall he had done a splendid service. Twenty wickets had been a deserving haul for this bubbly off-spinner. Harbhajan looked a complete bowler in the series, accounting for his victims with some incisive spells. Carl Hooper, the affable West Indian skipper, may have been unkind in his remarks that Harbhajan bowled well only at home. The same would apply to Hooper who only batted well at home. Harbhajan did not give any thoughts to such remarks and was rightly aiming to improve his craft in the times to come. "I'm enjoying the added responsibility of being a match-winner," he said.