By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The India-West Indies Test match at Delhi promises to be a thriller as the slow surface has unveiled a bag of surprises. On the first day the pitch looked placid and benign with nothing in it for the bowlers, but as the game progressed it has lost both pace and bounce. At the end of Day Two, West Indies look better placed - 116 runs ahead with eight wickets in hand.
The West Indian effort in the field was brilliant as they bowled according to their plans and the fielders put in everything to save valuable runs for the team. Athleticism and agility were a common feature as the West Indian fielders threw themselves at every opportunity to put pressure on the hosts. The Indian batsmen weren’t allowed to pick the quick singles and it added to their frustration on the low Delhisurface.
In one of my previous articles I wrote about the West Indies attack. Kemar Roach isn’t playing a part in this Test and the other three – Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Devendra Bishoo - have done their bit to trouble the famed Indian batting line-up. However, the men who stood out and played the most pivotal role in securing the 95-run lead are captain Darren Sammy and Carlton Baugh, the wicket-keeper. The two of them went about their business in fine style to dent the home side.
Sammy’s appointment as captain has been subject to a lot of criticism. He isn’t looked upon as a player who can contribute a lot as his bowling, doesn’t look very threatening and his batting doesn’t promise much. But, he produces the odd spell that completely changes the balance of a game. He did that against Pakistan earlier this year in the Caribbean to win a Test match and has almost replicated it in the first encounter of the Indian journey.
Commentators have often described his bowling as “innocuous”. He doesn’t possess the zing to strike consistently. Batsmen may tend to relax against him which might result in a wicket, but given a sniff, he would produce those deceptive deliveries at regular intervals and make inroads. He invited Yuvraj Singh to play a lofted cover-drive to end a promising knock that threatened to get India back into the game.
When the in-form Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in, he used the slowness of the surface to good effect and went through his defence. One could see that he was bowling with a scrambled seam which isn’t very easy to tackle on a slow surface. These two blows by Sammy were huge in the context of the game as he picked out the men who could have changed the complexion of the game in a matter of minutes.
Sammy also showed good presence of mind when he reacted quickly to a powerful shot hit by Virender Sehwag. The West Indies captain got a hand on the bullet off Sehwag’s bat which went on to the stumps at the bowling end and found Gautam Gambhir short of his ground. One may say that he was lucky to bag that dismissal but he had the courage to attempt to stop the Sehwag hit. Fortune, indeed, favors the brave!
The other man who dazzled at the Feroz Shah Kotla was Carlton Baugh, the wicket-keeper. If Dhoni’s 200th dismissal stole the headlines on day one, it was his West Indian counterpart’s moment under the sun on day two. Baugh’s quick reflexes and nimble feet helped create a few dismissals. He was alert to the situation and reacted in a flash to send four Indian batsmen back into the hut. It isn’t very easy keeping on a slow and low surface, but Baugh seemed very comfortable and up for the challenge. Furthermore, it is even more difficult when you are standing up to the stumps on such surfaces to a bowler like Sammy who bowls in the 120s.
The wicket of Sehwag invoked memories of VVS Laxman’s dismissal in the Caribbean earlier this year. Laxman’s was caught off guard by Baugh when he flicked the bails after the former had just lifted his foot centimeters off the ground. In comparison, the Sehwag dismissal was a lot more difficult to execute because the ball was going down the leg side and Sehwag was trying to paddle it fine.
Baugh had to not only anticipate the delivery but also judge the batsman’s movement. After collecting it cleanly he had to maintain his balance and keep an eye on Sehwag. It was amazing to see him capitalise on that small window of opportunity presented by Sehwag when he lost balance and lifted his right leg off the ground. The bails were taken off in a flash and the local boy had to return to the pavilion. This incident highlights Baugh’s presence of mind and tells us that he is always looking for those small openings. Batsmen have to be very careful when he is standing up.
Apart from the stumping, Baugh also took three catches. The catch to dismiss Laxman was special as the ball kept very low off a length. Baugh had to stay down and take it cleanly after the deflection off the bat. The other catch that impressed everyone was that of Ravichandran Ashwin. Baugh was standing up to Sammy and he held on to a fine tickle by Ashwin down the leg side. The way he moved down the leg-side and had his gloves in the right position is a huge lesson for budding wicket-keepers.
The West Indies find themselves in a position of strength despite losing their openers in the second innings. They would want to push the lead as far as possible and try to set a score out of the reach of the Indians. The batsmen need to compliment the efforts of Baugh and Sammy and set the game for a Caribbean victory!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")