When Shannon Gabriel miscued Ravindra Jadeja to Bhuvneshwar Kumar at midwicket, Virat Kohli became the first Indian skipper to win two Test matches in a series in the West Indies. On the first morning of this Test match, a win for India seemed impossible after they were reduced to 87 for 4 after being asked to bat.
The skipper, who had drawn flak for some of his contentious selectorial decisions on the first morning, ended the match on a triumphant note, his strategic acumen enhanced after the inspired decision to re-draft Bhuvneshwar Kumar (6 for 46), which to a large extent covered up the foolhardiness of benching Murali Vijay.
The celebrations were rather muted, for they knew the inevitable as soon as West Indies batsmen began to throw in the towel, succumbing without any fight. But in fairness the victory owed to craft and discipline of the Indian bowlers, whose combined efficiency stymied West Indies in their pursuit of drawing the match and keeping the series alive. If the first innings turnaround owed to Bhuvneshwar, in the second innings it was a more equitable contribution with Shami, Ishant, Bhuvneshwar, Ashwin and Jadeja chiming in with timely strikes.
They were complemented by the indiscretion of West Indies batsmen too. Take for instance Marlon Samuels, their titular batsman. For most of his tormented 27-ball existence, he seemed like a man on a death-wish, hastening head on to meet his own end. It would have been a heightened sense of optimism, or to put it bluntly sheer foolishness, if he had been nursing ideas of an exciting heist. To accomplish that, West Indies had to score four runs an over, which on a slowish surface and against a jaunty bowling unit was only illusory.
Conventional as well as practical wisdom suggested him to shelve his attacking instincts and bat deep into the day. You’d expect that from the senior-most batsman in the side. But Samuels wouldn’t listen. He hasn’t ever in his 16-year-old career, one that seemed destined to scale heights when he burst into the scene but one that’s now seem destined to end unfulfilled.
Samuels wouldn’t forsake his impetuous first nature, a reason, despite being the side’s titular batsman in the last five years, his fourth-innings numbers are pitifully abysmal. He averages just 18.70 in 20 fourth innings outings. His highest score is 54, a battling knock in Kandy achieved against that guileful conjurer from Candy in 2001. West Indies lost the match by 131 runs, but Samuels showed rare promise and composure. But but only once more did he ever cross 50, a stroke-laden 52 that helped them beat New Zealand by five wickets.
The fourth-innings labour and ennui were left to men of supposedly limited stroke-making gifts like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, whose mean was a terrific (by fourth-innings standards) 41. 57. Samuels flourish or flounder playing his strokes. The context has never bothered him. So with his team in the dumps, at 2 for 4 in five overs and battling to keep the series alive, Samuels batted with the flippancy of an inebriated gambler in a casino. Or with the naivety of the school kids who fill the ground during lunch intervals, as part of the WICB’s kiddy cricket programme.
How else would you comprehend the logic, or the lack of it, behind some of his strokes. The 13th ball he faced, he stood rooted to the crease and tried to scythe a ball pitched way outside the off-stump and swinging further away over cover. He was hideously beaten. Then having so beautifully driven Ravichandran Ashwin for a brace of boundaries, he sashayed down ground and tried to loft him over mid off, against the turn. He ended up miscuing it to mid-wicket. He then cleared his front foot foot out of the way and and tried to clatter Ishant Sharma through midwicket, like you’d in the death overs of an ODI or T20. Ishant, or any other bowled, had to just keep bowling at the stumps to get him dismissed. Off the 25th ball of his innings, he met his end, when attempting to cut an Ishant delivery that was neither too short not too wide for the shot. Then you can’t stop a man on a death-wish.
Samuels’s attitude can be contagious too, as Darren Bravo, himself trying to arrest the worst drought of his career, attempted strokes you would only find a passing mention even in the T20 batting manual. There was this instance when he was trying to fetch a short-ball from way outside the off-stump through midwicket. He just toe-edged it in front of the gully. Maybe, he thought a well-executed pull would prompt Indian bowlers, especially his tormentor-in-chief Mohammed Shami, to revise their lengths. Bravo, at least, saw through the testy phase and bristled to a morale-restoring half-century.
Samuels couldn’t ill-afford to waste his wicket, for they were bound to get a few unplayable balls, as the strip had uneven bounce and Ishant was bowling an incisive spell, hitting the stumps with more regularity that he had this series. It wasn’t one of those nightmarish surfaces where the short of length ball screeched through the surface, for the surface was slow, but one where the batsmen had to crouch to defend a few balls. He, at least, had to see off Ishant and Bhuvneshwar.
Also, they were meandering to the lunch interval. This meant Roston Chase, their second-innings protagonist in Kingston, had to negotiate an uneasy little period before lunch and then start all over again.
In the sixth over after lunch, the hosts lost their biggest hope of producing a draw. Chase a little late, his front foot prodding lazily, to an Ishant delivery that bend back at him and sneaked though the driveway between his bat and pad. A little loose you can say, as had been Kraigg Brathwaite and Leon Johnson, but he wasn’t culpable of throwing his wicket away, like Samuels. His fellow conspirator in Kingston, Shane Dowrich, wouldn’t have met his end if he had a more pronounced front-foot stride.
But like Samuels, putting a prize on the wicket seemed to be an alien concept for Jermaine Blackwood. So ambitiously he thrust his front foot to flay Ravindra Jadeja through covers, but only to swipe the thin air and over-balance himself at the crease. It was one of those rare instances when Jadeja foxed a top-order batsman with flight.
Ever rarer was it to see a batsman getting run out in pursuit of a non-existent single in the fourth-innings of a Test you are looking to save. And of all the eleven men, the captain running himself out. It summed up their muddle approach to bat out just two and a half session to keep the series alive. And what a farce they made out of it.