Not for nothing are the glorious uncertainties of cricket such a dreaded aspect of the game. It has this knack of reducing the best of cricketers and teams into insignificant players. Worse, it can make the haughty look ridiculously inadequate at the most inopportune of times. In short, the game can be a humbling experience when least expected.
Friday was one such day. India thought they were flying high and had the full measure of the blubbering West Indies when the latter were tottering at 113 for five. But just when India's players thought they were on velvet, the visitors dug deep to turn the tables.
Two remarkable partnerships anchored by Roston Chase not only gave West Indies hope but also put India under pressure for the first time in the series. Certainly batting last on a pitch already showing signs of turning into a dusty bowl will not be a pleasant chore for India.
Chase’s approach to batting was pleasing to the eye. His languid style was so reminiscent of former captain Carl Hooper’s batting.
Chase gives the impression that he is relaxed and unhurried with the result that there is a lot graceful about the manner in which he goes about his task. He stands tall while punching off the back foot but leans into his front foot drives and takes the ball right below his eyes.
Indeed batting on pitches where the ball does not come onto the bat cannot be easy for players unused to these conditions. But Chase batted as though he knew exactly what needed to be done and showed exemplary patience throughout his 200-minute vigil that fetched him an unbeaten 98 from 174 deliveries.
His innings not only steadied the West Indies ship but also inspired two others, Shane Dowrich and skipper Jason Holder to play supporting roles in the fightback.
In a way India too were fortunate on the day. Skipper Virat Kohli, a firm believer in the 5-bowler theory, was vindicated substantially by events that unfolded on the day.
India chose to blood Mumbai’s Shardul Thakur in this Test at Hyderabad, the last one before the tour to Australia. The young paceman was chosen ahead of Mohammed Shami in a bid to give him match experience. Consequently, the Indian playing eleven featured five bowlers: two pacers in Umesh Yadav and Thakur and three spinners in Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav.
But Thakur, after delivering just 10 balls, broke down and hobbled off the field. It was a sad moment made worse by the fact that this catastrophe struck him on his debut. It robbed the side of a fast bowler and Thakur himself an opportunity to get into groove in familiar conditions.
The groin injury within the first few minutes of the Test would have severely hampered the team if India had gone into the Test with just four bowlers. Luckily Kohli’s aggressive outlook where he targets opponents with five bowlers now turned out to be a real saviour.
The four other bowlers shared the extra workload and soon got their teeth into the West Indies top order.
Ashwin and Kuldeep who came on to bowl earlier than usual got rid of the openers while Umesh got the ball to jag back to trap Shai Hope for 36. Three wickets in the pre-lunch session followed by another two within 30 minutes of resumption left the visitors innings in tatters.
It was then that Chase, who already has three Test centuries including one against India, and wicket-keeper Dowrich (30 off 63 balls) got stuck into a 69-run sixth wicket partnership that lent the innings plenty of stability, if not respectability. That came when skipper Holder (52; 92 balls, 6x4) and Chase pieced together an invaluable 104-run seventh wicket partnership.
The pair dominated the scene after tea and picked up runs at will. Holder was in a spot of bother with Kuldeep’s googlies but with the wicket playing slow he found it easier to push on to his back foot even when the ball was pitched up.
Holder finally gloved the second new ball down the leg side where wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant took a smart catch. But by then the West Indies were well on their way to a total in excess of 300. Their final score on the day, 295 for 7, was already way ahead of expectations. It could come in handy if the pitch crumbles early.
Chase, just two runs short of an excellent century has already done plenty to restore West Indies pride. Every run he scores on the morrow will give fresh hope to his team.
India, on the other hand will be hoping to wrap up the visitors innings as quickly as possible. The last thing they’d want is to overwork their bowlers. For that they’d need to quickly ‘cut to the chase'!