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West Indies go one-up

They won it in emphatic style. No matter what the unofficial apologist had to say (more of that later), the West Indies were by far the better side. India caved in when chasing a target of just 120. Rose, Ambrose and Bishop exploited the conditions well and kept the Indians on a tight leash. Not one batsman showed the application needed to bat on a pitch of uncertain bounce. After the top order fell, there was an element of panic and then a feeling of helplessness. They went like lambs to the slaughter.

India's second innings total of 81 is the lowest score in a Test at the Kensington Oval, the previous lowest being 94 by New Zealand in 1985. The final day's play did bring back memories of the Adelaide Test of 1992-93 when Australia, chasing 185 for victory, lost to the West Indies by one run. And five years ago, South Africa went into the final day at 122 for two chasing a target of 201; Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose packed the other eight home within the space of 26 runs.

The hosts were out of the game only at one point in the three and a half days of play -- on the second day when Tendulkar made that glorious 92. He played the sort of innings which he alone can and, though troubled occasionally, did not let a single loose ball go unpunished. But that was the only time India rode high. On the third morning, the fast bowlers came back with a vengeance and put the screws on. Seven wickets fell for 70 runs and an Indian innings which had looked like it would go well beyond 400 ended with a lead of just 21.

It was never easy to bat on this wicket, not even on the first morning. Chanderpaul had to graft for his runs. Ditto Dravid. And the same goes for Tendulkar during the early stages of his 92. Strangely enough, Ambrose batted well in both innings and Dillon did likewise in the second. Their partnership of 33 for the last wicket in the West Indies second innings of 140 proved crucial -- the margin of victory was just five runs over this. Dillon was not needed to bowl in India's second innings as the other three had it well sewn up. They never let India off the hook with Rose being the most dangerous and the one who ploughed the path so that the others could follow. He got the man who was most likely to stick around -- Dravid -- with a superb delivery which moved slightly away after pitching in line with the off-stump. Ambrose came in with two beauties to get Azhar and Ganguly and Bishop snared Tendulkar. The rest was relatively easy.

The unofficial apologist, Sunil Gavaskar, who is a TV commentator for the series, had a busy day. When Dravid went at 16, the second one to fall, Gavaskar had an inkling that the writing was on the wall. In big, bold characters too. So he started blaming the pitch at every possible opportunity. There was no word of admiration for the way Brian Lara captained the team -- this was his first Test and there weren't that many runs to bowl at. Not a word about the field placings, not a mention of the way the West Indies fast bowlers kept India quiet. One must remember that Rose is playing only his third Test; Ambrose is well past his prime. In fact, at one stage Gavaskar even suggested that the groundsman be given the man of the match award. Sour grapes, indeed.

Would Gavaskar rate this pitch as more difficult to bat on than the one in Bangalore in 1987 when he made that superb 96 against Pakistan? The ball was turning square on the third morning and he exhibited rare technique to almost ensure an Indian win. The fact is the Indian batsman are not up to playing fast bowling on a pitch of uncertain bounce, one which helps the quickies; this was evident in South Africa. Why blame the pitch alone? When Kumble picks up wickets in multiples of five in India, who is to be praised -- the pitch or the bowler? When dust flies from a pitch on day one of a Test (India-Australia 1996, Ahmedabad), and the slow bowlers have a ball, who gets the credit? The groundsman or the bowlers?

Tendulkar, himself, was more honest about the failure of the Indian batting. He did not whinge or whine. He knows that having to go when you aren't really out is part of the game. He was quick to point out that no batsmen had really applied himself. All that was needed was a few small scores; only Laxman with 19 and sundries with 15 got into double figures. Brian Lara's knock of 45 in the West Indies second innings has to be viewed in this context.

Much was made of the fact that Tendulkar was caught off what appeared to be a no-ball in the first innings. There was an equal amount of talk about the fact that Rose appeared to have over-stepped when he got Sidhu with a brute of a ball. At that point, everybody seemed to forget that umpires do err; Venkataraghavan did not call McGrath for over-stepping twice in the second Australia-South Africa Test and the bowler got wickets with both deliveries. There is much said about the fact that players look jaded and cannot perform well because of an excess of cricket; that the same goes for the umpires is conveniently forgotten.