One more dreary draw and the much vaunted calypso series is turning out to be a bit of a drag. And with this, the chances of India winning a single Test have diminished considerably. This was the friendliest pitch they could have encountered in the Caribbean and they made a hash of it. Poor captaincy by Sachin Tendulkar again -- one would have thought that he had learned his lessons after that inept show in the third Test against South Africa. It appears that it will be many more summers ere the Indian captain learns that captaincy is more than going through the motions and waiting for things to happen. He also has to learn one simple principle -- nothing venture, nothing gain.
Having got the West Indies in a spin at 169 for six, India could not drive home the advantage on a wicket which was clearly assisting the slower bowlers. The West Indies got away and to the comparative safety of 296. Then India again ground their way to a position of strength but failed to consolidate; they passed the West Indies score for the loss of just two wickets. At this point, there was a need for a clear strategy -- go for the runs, build up as big a lead as possible and then declare. Batting last on this pitch may have proved difficult.
But India chose to fiddle away. A total of 196 runs were scored on day three -- and remember Indian began this day in a position of strength at 171 for one. One man had to anchor the innings sure -- Sidhu played this role to perfection. But too many others were out there trying to fight personal battles. Tendulkar was trying to regain his form; was this the need of the hour or did the team need quick runs? Ganguly came in and played as though the match was a 10-day affair. Azharuddin did not bother to get his head down the next day and the whole advantage was nearly blown.
But even after the lead was kept to 140 there was time to make amends. There was no need to defend. There certainly was a need for all-out attack. There was a need to experiment and try to make things happen. It would have been apparent to even the totally blind, that the West Indies were not going to be able to get enough runs to set India a target which would tempt the visitors enough to give the home team a chance of winning; it was apparent to anyone with an IQ of 50 that they would try to bat as long as possible and draw the game. India had nothing to lose.
In such a situation, what Tendulkar did was amazing. This is his ninth Test as skipper and he should have picked up something along the way. The previous evening he had watched as an ordinary off-spinner like Hooper tied Ganguly up in knots. Yet it did not occur to him that Laxman would pose similar problems to Chanderpaul. He seemed reluctant to bowl anybody except the four specialist bowlers -- shades of the way he handled the bowlers in that third Test against the South Africans -- until both Williams and Chanderpaul were well set. Laxman was brought on at that stage and did trouble Chanderpaul a bit; how much better if he had been bowling when the left-handed Guyanese was new to the crease.
Instead of crowding the batsmen with every fielder he could possibly think of, Tendulkar at times had four men on the fence. As the West Indies batsmen gained in confidence, the little fear that the Indian bowlers had generated initially evaporated. The Indians may well complain about the lbw decisions that were turned down but the umpires were consistent in not bothering about any appeal from either side unless it was 200 percent plumb. And just two fitted into this category, Laxman, and Campbell in the second innings.
The amazing thing is that Tendulkar had the gumption to tell the media after the match that he felt India could have pushed for a win after tea on the final day! Four wickets were down at tea and two more fell after the interval but by then the West Indies had a lead of around 130; when the final hour was almost on them the lead was 159. Twenty overs remained; would a team which had been treading on its toes so far throw caution to the winds and chase a target at eight an over? (this is assuming that the home tean had been bowled out by then). This is a ridiculous thing to say and a strange way to indulge in damage control. It was immaturity all the way and no amount of talk can hide it.
The hosts gained something from the tie; for one, they saw their lower order pull really hard for the shore and knock up 127 for the last four wickets. Holder got some runs to justify his being picked and Williams did so too. Dillon bowled exceedingly well and will clearly be a handful after a few years of experience; if he plays at Barbados, as well he should, he will be difficult to handle. Rose may well be the one to sit out if Bishop is fit for the third Test. The old campaigners, Walsh and Ambrose, did their bit too and the latter added five more to his bag. They both can be murder on a helpful wicket but this one was slow again. Once again the West Indies were forced to bat first, just to avoid batting last.
To come back to India's performance, apart from all the other reasons they had to push for a win, they must have been well aware that this is likely to be the last slow wicket; Bridgetown, St John's and Guyana will help the quickies. I think India could have made more of a game of it; they blew a good chance and it may not come calling again.