India ends first day on hard-fought 234 for 5, fighting back after West Indies bowlers struck early
After losing their top order cheaply on the first day of the third Test against West Indies, India bounced back through some hard graft, ending a day of attritional cricket on 234 for 5 from 90 overs on Tuesday (August 9). R Ashwin, batting on 75, was holding fort for India alongside Wriddhiman Saha, who had an unbeaten 46 to his name.
Ahead of this Test, much talk swirled around selection, and despite all the speculation, Virat Kohli showed that he had the element of surprise, twirling his captaincy wand and pulling a Rohit Sharma out of the hat. Ravindra Jadeja replacing Amit Mishra was on the cards, Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming in for Umesh Yadav was not a shock, but leaving M Vijay on the bench, and dropping Cheteshwar Pujara was a stunning, if unsuccessful, reflection of how modern captains think. At least this one, a firm believer in horses for courses.
As it turned out, the move didn't bear success, with Shikhar Dhawan being strangled down the legside by Shannon Gabriel, who has bowled with great verve and potency for unfairly little returns. The start was a rocky one for India and the move to fit Rohit into the batting order meant that Kohli promoted himself to No. 3. In four innings in that position Kohli has never made a half-century, scoring only 90 runs in all, as against No. 4, his natural spot, where he strikes at 50.64 and has eight centuries to go with four fifties.
But, it was not the numerology of the batting number that got Kohli out, it was a brute of a delivery from Alzarri Joseph, the 19-year-old fast bowler who had received his Test cap from Joel Garner, who specialised in just such snorters. Banged in at pace, the ball lifted from a length and headed straight for Kohli, who checked his shot and fended, sending a thick edge to Darren Bravo at first slip.
Joseph leapt into the air with the enthusiasm of a young man enjoying doing what he was born to, and suddenly here was a West Indies team looking to build on the gains from a hard fought draw in Kingston. The body language on the field in the first session was brimming with positivity, and there was no shortage of effort or discipline.
KL Rahul, who had kept his place in the team thanks to his century in the second Test, was assured at the crease, batting with a different clarity to his partners at the other end. Rahul drove with flair and defended with surety, getting to a half-century with no fuss. Having done all the hard work though, Rahul fell for the oldest trick in the book, flicking the part-time offspinner behind square straight to the fielder who had just been positioned there for the uppish shot.
Rohit, in at No. 5, lasted only 23 balls and made 9 runs. Keeping the ball full in the channel outside offstump, looking for swing, Joseph found just enough away movement to invite an early-innings waft from Rohit, Shane Dowrich accepting the catch with glee. At 87 for 4, West Indies was all over India, applying the pressure, turning the screws and controlling the tempo of play.
Ajinkya Rahane and Ashwin got properly stuck, unable to take risks against Gabriel or Joseph and incapable of breaking the stranglehold Chase applied with a packed legside field and darts onto the pads. The result was that in the middle session, India managed just 43 runs from 19 overs, with only two boundaries being struck. It was the tightening tourniquet that accounted for Rahane, who played a gleefully exuberant sweep to a full toss from Chase that deserved to be sent packing, but only connected with air. The death rattle sounded behind Rahane, who could not believe what he had done, having spent at eternity getting his eye in only to get himself out.
However, India found the wherewithal to claw their way back into the contest. Ashwin was particularly vigilant and applied himself diligently despite being beaten more than once early on. Ashwin allowed the ball to come to him, nudging, whipping, pushing and nurdling, accumulating rather than amassing runs. The scoreboard moved at a slow pace, but situation between the first session and the final one was chalk and cheese. Where India was once fighting just to stay at the crease, the batsmen were now not merely resisting but thriving. At stumps, Ashwin was still around, and Saha was closing in on a half-century. The pair had added 108 for the sixth wicket, soaking up pressure and restoring some parity between the two teams.
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