Overseas Test wins are pretty rare for India. In the last 10 years, they have won eight Tests outside Asia. A ninth victory in the last decade was all but assured when they took the field for the final day of their Test against the West Indies in Jamaica. They needed six wickets to win and had 98 overs to get them. As the West Indies had lost four wickets in less than 16 overs on the severely curtailed fourth day, few expected the result to be anything other than an Indian win.
It wasn’t so though, it was a draw and the West Indies got there not thanks to the inclement weather that blighted the fourth day, but as a result of brilliant counter-attacking batting from Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder. All four made significant contributions but it was Chase that was the star of the show.
This is Chase’s second Test, and whenever someone is new to the international game people are keen to make comparisons to players of the past. This is mostly nonsense, and this may well fall into that category, but there is something of Jimmy Adams in the languid way the tall and upright Chase bats, albeit a right handed version.
Before this Test, Chase had made just two first-class hundreds in his 30 games at that level. As he cruised to 137 not out in this match, he looked like a man with a much stronger record behind him. Having picked up five wickets in India’s innings, Chase became the first West Indian cricketer to get a five wicket haul and a hundred in fifty years. The last man to do it for the West Indies was Sir Garfield Sobers in August, 1966.
Chase’s innings, and those of Blackwood, Dowrich and Holder, finally breathed some life into a series that has been turgid and difficult to watch so far. This final day certainly wasn’t boring as the West Indies finally showed some fight having been pretty woeful for the vast majority of nine days of cricket that proceeded this one.
In the three West Indian innings this series before this one, they had been bowled out for 243, 231 and 196. Needing to make 305 to make India bat again, the odds of 10-1 on the draw that were being offered by British bookmakers seemed a little short, especially with them beginning the day on 48-4. That they batted out the day making 340-2 is nothing short of miraculous. There was little evidence that they were capable of this kind of batting rigidity in the cricket we have seen in this series so far.
While Chase will quite rightly gets most of the praise for this great escape, the three other batsmen who all made half centuries played their part. The 144 run stand between Chase and Dowrich was the most impressive. It is the best partnership the West Indies have managed by a distance and it could not have come under more trying circumstances. It could well have been worth more but Dowrich was on the receiving end of a horrible lbw decision that saw him dismissed despite a massive inside edge that should have saved him.
On another day that umpiring error would have seen the West Indies lose their way and seen India claim victory, but captain Jason Holder was up to the task, making an excellent 64 not out to support Chase as the home team claimed the draw with some ease.
In Test cricket if you can’t win you draw. The fact that you can get out get something out of a match that you may well have lost is one of the more enduring traits of the Test game. The fight that West Indies showed in this innings was just fantastic to see. For far too long the capable and talented cricketers in this West Indies team have rolled over and had their tummies tickled. Here they just refused to be beaten and that is fantastic news for the longest form of the game which is under more pressure in the Caribbean than almost anywhere else in the world – contract disputes and the encroachment of Twenty20 are making the demise of Tests in the West Indies a legitimate concern.
India certainly didn’t bowl badly, it was just that they actually met some resistance from the West Indies for the first time in four innings. This is supposed to be how Test cricket is played. It should be hard work to get batsmen out, it should test your physical and mental abilities. Finally the West Indies made India work.
But for the rain that has blighted this Test, India would have won this match. Their decision to bat on to set a lead that gave them a chance of only having to bat once was sound, but they were guilty of a lack of urgency once they were in front of the game. With the complete control India had in their innings, they had plenty of chances to accelerate the scoring rate. They didn’t take it, instead content to meander along at less than three an over.
With the time that was lost to the weather and given how well the West Indies batted second time around, the extra time that India would have gained by looking to inject some intent into their innings may not have given them enough time, but they had a chance to get to a position of total dominance quicker than they did.
Going forward, this batting effort by the West Indies middle order will give them a sizeable confidence boost heading to the third Test at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground in St Lucia. The pitch in Gros Islet is one of the very best in the Caribbean and there will be good pace and carry which should aid the West Indies' somewhat pedestrian seam attack to get a bit more of an attacking edge, but it will also aid the Indian seamers who have been bowling well this series.
If we can see the kind of cricket over five days in St Lucia that we saw on the last day in Jamaica, it will be compelling to watch.