India in charge
Windies facing uphill task in first Test
ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Virat Kohli registered his first Test double century. Ravichandran Ashwin scored a third Test ton against the West Indies. And Rajendra Chandrika counted his seventh Test failure, as India bossed the first Test against the West Indies at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium today.
Kohli continued his efficient and energetic accumulation of runs to bring up exactly 200, setting up India’s declaration on 566, their joint fourth-highest score against West Indies. Promoted to No. 6, Ashwin enjoyed some luck in the first hour of the day before strolling to his third hundred against West Indies, taking his average against them to 64.67. Given 16 overs, the Indian bowlers tried desperately for a breakthrough, and succeeded less than 10 minutes before the end of play on the second day.
That India could entertain a declaration with more than an hour to stumps was down to Kohli’s scoring rate. He went at 4.2 an over; Amit Mishra and the tail began to swing their bats pushing for declaration, the rest of the side managed 282 runs in over 101.5 overs. Kohli’s intent – helped no doubt by a flat pitch and tiring bowlers – foiled West Indies’ plan pretty much from ball one: bowl defensively and ensure your stacked-up batting line-up has less time to survive. Apart from Shannon Gabriel, no bowler – there was only one other specialist in the side – actively looked for wickets and instead relied on frustrating batsmen. However, Kohli, India’s first captain to score an away double, took risks and made the bowlers bowl to him because he was driving the wide ones too.
Gabriel, though, should have had his second wicket early on the second day. West Indies’ wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich had waited for 423 overs over three Tests for his first opportunity at a dismissal. When Gabriel produced the outside edge from Ashwin, his eagerness to celebrate led to a sitter being grassed. Ashwin was 43 then. West Indies still managed to keep him quiet – at one point he went 40 balls for four runs – but Kohli, who resumed the day on 143 not out, kept finding a way around the defensive lines.
As was the case on day one, Gabriel bowled a short burst with the new ball, and Carlos Brathwaite followed up with a spell that tested the batsmen’s patience by bowling a set of stumps outside off. The tactic had kept India’s top order quiet in the first session of the match, but Kohli didn’t wait for too long before taking a calculated risk, executing it so well it didn’t look like a risk. Kohli has his own way of choosing what balls to drive. Each delivery of Brathwaite’s first three overs was bowled to Kohli, who attempted to score off only one, the widest of the lot. It wasn’t a half-volley either, but Kohli drove superbly on the up, and got a boundary to break any pressure the joining of dots creates.
Cover driving, as usual, remained the feature of Kohli’s innings. When he gave the treatment to Devendra Bishoo in the 105th over, the boundary took him past his previous best of 169; it was his 50th run through the covers. A sign of how well he batted came when, in the 113th over, he played perhaps the only ungainly shot of his innings, a half-sweep across the line to deep midwicket. Turned out he had picked the rare wrong’un from Bishoo, and was actually playing with the spin.
No Test double is easy, but in the last over before lunch, Kohli strolled to one of the more inevitable ones with an easy single off a short offbreak. Kohli hadn’t really played the punch off the back foot on this slow track, but perhaps looking for even quicker runs he tried that after lunch, playing Gabriel on to the stumps. Cease fire followed. West Indies went back to bowling defensively with defensive fields with spinners on at both ends, which helped improve their over rate. Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha didn’t look too fussed in a 71-run partnership in 24.4 overs.
Slow pitch, fielders in front, no pace to work with, and West Indies finally had a quiet half session. Ashwin didn’t look in any hurry, Saha tried to break the monotony, succeeding on a couple of occasions before getting stumped. Dowrich finally had a maiden Test dismissal. Overall, though, West Indies refused to attack, which could also give India scoring opportunities, and India didn’t seem overly bothered with the slow going.
Seven minutes before tea, with a back-foot punch through midwicket, Ashwin brought up his hundred, reminding you of the shot of the day, a back-foot punch through mid-on for four. Mishra’s enterprise at the other end, his fourth half-century, off only 68 balls, gave India the push they needed. Tired minds and bodies dropped three catches; time seemed right for declaration.
In the overs that followed, Kohli tried a lot of attacking combinations: three slips and a gully, an extra gully and really full outswingers, short leg and backward short leg for short-pitched bowling, and his trump card R Ashwin. Rajendra Chandrika, who had earlier gloved an Ishant Sharma bouncer over the keeper, finally succumbed in the 15th over, edging Shami through to the keeper.