India are a long way in front in the third Test match against West Indies, and will be pushing for victory on Saturday. They are in that position because of the brilliance of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who put together one of the finest spells of swing bowling you are ever likely to see, as he destroyed the West Indies top order. With his help, India managed to take the nine remaining first innings wickets for an addition of just 118 runs.
They ended the day in a brilliant position – of being 285 runs in front and very close to declaring. It was an almost perfect day, but it could have been better. An injection of pace into the run scoring, earlier than it came, would have left India in a position to declare overnight. Having lost the whole of day three to rain, India arrived for the fourth morning of this Test fighting both the West Indies and the passage of time, as they attempted to claim a series win with a Test to spare; to keep alive their chances of claiming the world number one Test ranking.
It had been a frustrating experience for India on the second day, as Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo batted with admirable resistance to reach 107-1. When they resumed on that score, after a day off due to rain, both Brathwaite and Bravo looked solid enough as they moved the score on to 129. Ishant Sharma was bowling well to Bravo, tucking him up with short balls and bowling at a decent lick. While Bravo was pulling out some sexy drives when the ball was pitched up, when it was directed toward his body he looked a lot less comfortable.
It was one of those shorter deliveries that brought about Bravo’s dismissal, but it was not without controversy. He attempted to hook a ball that was too close to him and ballooned it up in the air to Ravindra Jadeja at fine leg. The umpires asked for a replay to confirm if it was a no ball and it seemed that there was nothing behind the line.
The third umpire followed the latest ICC directive in this situation and gave the benefit of the doubt to the bowler – and there was a lot of doubt about the legitimacy of that ball. Ashwin accounted for the wicket of Brathwaite for 64, with a ball that turned sharply and brushed the glove down the leg side. A steady partnership of 67 between Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood got the West Indies to the lunch break at 194-3, but after the interval, the day became 'the Bhuvneshwar Kumar show' as he put on a masterclass of swing bowling with the new ball.
Bowling the ideal length and speed to get the ball to swing, he accounted for Blackwood with a ball that pitched outside the off stump and moving away. Blackwood had no choice but to play at it and edged it through to Kohli in the slips.
It was perfect but not as impressive as what came next. The footage of the five deliveries that Bhuvneshwar bowled to Samuels in the 90th over should be put in a capsule and fired into space so alien species can understand what is meant by swing bowling. Samuels batting technique is an extension of his on-field persona.
It is both laid back and punchy. He hangs back in his crease and waits for the ball, but when it arrives he can be brutal in his shot making. In this innings, he was happy to play shots over the top and down the ground and was driving well though the covers; but in that 90th over from Bhuvneshwar, he had no answers.
The first four balls pitched and swung away. Two were defended out to the off side, two were left alone. The fifth pitched in the same spot as the others but went the other way, moving sharply into the batsman. Samuels, hanging back as he always does, attempted to defend it off the back foot and only succeeded in chopping the ball onto his stumps. Samuels is a fine Test batsman, with a fine record, but he was made to look like a novice.
In his spell after lunch, Bhuvneshwar took five wickets for 16 runs in 10.4 overs. He could have had more. He had Shane Dowrich dropped at slip by KL Rahul and by Mohammad Shami at mid-wicket. He also had Miguel Cummins pinned on the back foot – that should have been given out lbw, as it was going to hit the middle stump, but was not given. The best teams, the really great ones, that go on to be the number one ranked side in Test matches and dominate eras, are ruthless.
They turn losses into draws, draws into wins and sometimes even games that should have ended in defeat into victories. There have been times in this series where India have not shown that streak. At Jamaica they couldn’t finish the West Indies off on the last day. In their first innings in this Test, they found it difficult to accelerate their scoring rate to buy themselves the time to bowl the West Indies out twice. Today they were pitiless with the ball. They got on top and did not let up, and that was thanks to Bhuvneshwar.
It is remarkable to think he wasn’t selected for the first two Tests of this series. He will certainly be in the side for the next one. That day lost to rain makes the draw by far the most likely result, but that brilliant spell of bowling has given them a chance to win; they just need to score enough runs fast enough to give themselves the overs to take 10 wickets.
In the first innings, they were too wary of throwing away their hard fought recovery to push the scoring rate, perhaps understandably. This series has rarely seen India look to press home an advantage with the bat, relying on steady accumulation. In this innings they finally threw off the shackles, despite a slowdown, after the loss of three quick wickets. Virat Kohli struggled against the swinging ball early on. His promotion to the number three position is a questionable one for this very reason.
Kohli is a truly world class batsman, who will end his career as an all-time great, but he struggles against the swinging ball while it is new. Having him coming in at the fall of the first wicket in Tests will expose him to just that, more often than not.
It wasn’t until Rohit Sharma attempted really aggressive shot making that India’s run rate became an impressive one, and from there on they have batted very well to set up a push for victory. But you couldn’t escape the feeling that this talented Indian top order could have gotten more runs in the evening session. It will be a very bold move if Kohli declares overnight – chances are that India will bat on.
India are not very far away from becoming the number one ranked side, and if they are going to get there and stay there, they need to find the ruthlessness in their batting that they showed on day four in their bowling. The much maligned Rohit was the one that showed them the way to do that.