The fear of a painful defeat had been looming over Sabina Park right from the time West Indies failed to put enough runs on the board in their first innings.
However, until they lost their last wicket on Thursday afternoon, chasing the target of 326 set by India in the final innings, nobody really wanted to state the obvious. India won their second straight Test at this venue, on both occasions facilitated by the dependable Rahul Dravid.
The handful of spectators at the Sabina Park stood still after their worst fears came true. With 195 runs required, seven wickets in hand and two days remaining, West Indies skipper Darren Sammy had talked about the team’s expectations from veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul and young Darren Bravo, who resumed batting on the crucial morning.
However, the moment Bravo and Chanderpaul were dismissed after adding just 17 more runs, the rest of the batting order fell like a pack of cards. The hosts were eventually bowled out for 262 to lose the first Test by 63 runs.
Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma with three wickets each did most of the damage while spinners Amit Mishra and Harbhajan had their share of fun with the tail which wagged for a while but could only delay the inevitable.
For West Indies, batting remained their biggest disappointment throughout. Adrian Barath’s first innings score of 64 was their highest individual score while Bravo and Chanderpaul’s 68-run stand for the fourth wicket in the second innings remained their highest partnership in the game.
India’s victory was based on three pillars. First was the 146-run partnership between Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh on Day One that helped the team score an eventual 246. Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar’s spells on Day Two – with three wickets each – helped restrict West Indies to 173. And Dravid’s hundred on Day Three helped the visitors set a formidable target. On the fourth day, West Indies simply crumbled.
The hosts will have a lot of soulsearching to do from here on. While the defeat was unavoidable, Darren Sammy’s men have to get their batting in order as soon as possible if West Indies have to correct themselves in the remaining two Tests. The Kensington Oval in Barbados and Windsor Park in Dominica will favour India a lot more than Sabina Park, where they already gained the required advantage.
Sammy’s batting lineup needs some kind of motivation too. Despite the skipper’s talk of arranging various motivational activities – like attending lectures, staying together, going on adventure camps – the fact remains that the team tends to lose intensity on the field.
The pressure of chasing the target on Sabina’s fourth-day wicket was asking for too much even from a batsman of Chanderpaul’s calibre, and the batsman managed just 30 before falling to Praveen Kumar. Along with Bravo, who also became Praveen’s victim, they both saw off 38.2 overs before the partnership crumbled. West Indies’ hopes of survival perished with it too.
Praveen made the first Test his own with an excellent display of swing bowling that earned him a match haul of six wickets. He had his ups and downs in the game, for instance the warnings from Daryl Harper about running on to the danger area while bowling, which he says in hindsight were lessons to learn from. Ishant used his height to good effect and generated valuable bounce from the wicket.
While Ishant remained India’s most economical bowler in the first innings, Praveen took over that role in the second and both ensured that India’s target of 20 wickets was achievable. Dravid’s bat had already done the rest.
In the absence of regular openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, India’s opening combination looked unsettled.
Sachin Tendulkar’s absence in the middle order made the batting looked further weakened. VVS Laxman failed to get going in both the innings.
Zaheer Khan’s absence meant the hosts were less fearful of the kind of opening spell the left-arm seamer is capable of delivering. Dravid was India’s only hope in the middle of this all and his contribution was more than enough to serve the team’s purpose.