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A tall, but not an impossible task for West Indies

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Last updated on 24 Jul 2023 | 02:37 AM
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A tall, but not an impossible task for West Indies

In Tests, only Australia in 1977 in Perth, scored more than 180 runs on the last day to win against India

The hosts are 289 runs behind with eight wickets in hand. They have lost their skipper Kraigg Brathwaite and the debutant Kirk McKenzie. Both batters were dismissed in successive overs by Ravichandran Ashwin. But, following that mini-collapse, Jermaine Blackwood and Tagenarine Chanderpaul have steadied things with a 32-run unbeaten partnership. 

India took little time for the clean-up job earlier in the day. In the space of 7.4 overs, the visitors dismissed the five remaining batters while conceding only 26 runs. Mohammed Siraj led from the front with his career-best spell of 5/60. 

With a lead of 183 and the inclement weather around, Indian openers came out all guns blazing. Rohit Sharma registered a half-century in just 35 balls, the third fastest by an Indian opener. The opening partnership hoisted 98 runs in 11.5 overs before Rohit was dismissed. Yashasvi Jaiswal followed this skipper in the next over (12.4). 

Ishan Kishan, promoted above Virat Kohli for some quick runs, did not disappoint. He registered his maiden half-century in just 33 balls, the second-fastest by an Indian wicket-keeper, after Rishabh Pant (28) against Sri Lanka in 2022. The declaration came as soon as he reached the milestone. 

West Indies skipper Brathwaite, who was in a shell in the first innings, came out intending to win. However, his aggression was the cause of his wicket. The right-handed opener fell prey to Ashwin for the fourth time this series - Brathwaite vs Ashwin this series: Innings - 4, Runs - 31, Outs - 4, Average - 7.8. 

Well, it was just the captain who went for the win. Chanderpaul, batting on 24 off 98, was on three of the first 50 balls.  

All is not lost for the Windies. They have wickets in hand, and 289 runs are not unachievable. In any case, the Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja pair have already started to trouble the batters. 

Speaking of trouble, both these bowlers have caused distress for the batters 500 times. After the two wickets by Ashwin, they became the second Indian pair to bag 500 wickets together, after Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble (501). They are just two away from being the best. 

Is it possible for West Indies?

It is not entirely impossible. Blackwood will have to repeat his 2020 Southampton heroics. The target on that last day (fifth) was just 200 but against top bowlers like James Anderson, Jofra Archer, and Mark Wood, West Indies managed to attain a win from 3/27. Blackwood missed out on a century by just five runs, but his counterattack was terrific. 

In recent times, West Indies have been poor with the bat. Irrespective of that, they have managed to pull off some mammoth chases. Of their top five successful run chases, three have been in this century, and two in the last six years. Against Bangladesh, they chased 395 in Chattogram in 2021, and in 2017, they hunted down 322 against England in Leeds. Their best chase of 418 against Australia in St John's also came in this century (2003). 

To win a Test match, West Indies have scored over 200 runs on the fifth day seven times. In the Leeds Test, they scored 317 runs on the last day. In their Bangladesh win, they amassed 285 runs on the fifth day. The most runs they scored on the fifth day to win a Test was in 1984 against England at Lord's when they scored 344 runs after losing just one wicket. 

But, none of the batters that won them the recent two matches are in the eleven of this match. Shai Hope in Leeds scored an unbeaten 118, and Kyle Mayers in Chattogram remained not out on 210 in a chase of 395. A new hero has to rise to the occasion, or even multiple heroes. 

However said, none of these have come on their home turf. 226 against Australia in 1999 in Bridgetown is the most runs scored to win by the Windies on the last day at home. 

To win this Test match, West Indies have to create history. In the Caribbean, no team has scored more than 280 runs on the last day to win a Test. In India's biggest chase in 1976, they had piled up 272 runs on the fifth day while chasing 403, the most. 

Adding to West Indies' difficulties. On the fifth day of a Test, India conceded 180+ runs only once in their history, dating way back to 1977. Australia in Perth gunned down 317 runs in a chase of 339. 156 against South Africa in 2007 (Cape Town) is their most in this century. 

In Tests since 2021, West Indies have batted in the fourth innings 16 times (excluding this). They have won five, but only one has been a big target (Bangladesh). Against Pakistan, they chased 168 losing nine wickets. The remaining three have been targets of less than 100. 

They have drawn thrice. In the eight remaining losses, they have faced 63 overs on average. Only thrice have they faced 70+ overs.    

It is not easy, but it is not unachievable. 

How do Ashwin and Jadeja fare in the fourth innings?

When the home team steps out to bat on the final day, the deadly spin duo of Ashwin and Jadeja is the biggest threat. 

In the fourth innings, Ashwin is an unstoppable force. In 32 innings, the offie has picked up 89 wickets at a staggering average of 19.2 and a strike rate of 46.1. He has snaffled four or more wickets in ten innings, six of which have been a five-wicket haul. 

Among bowlers who have bagged 50+ wickets in the fourth innings this century, only Rangana Herath (18.1 with 115 wickets) and Kagiso Rabada (18.9 with 59) average better than Ashwin. Jadeja, on the other hand, has played the perfect second fiddle. He has scalped 46 wickets at an average of 24.1 and a strike rate of 70.4. 

Both Indian spinners have an average of under 25 on the fifth day of a Test. Jadeja has bagged 32 wickets at an average of 20.4, and Ashwin has 42 while averaging 23.1. 

The most runs scored in a day's play in this series is 288, the first day of this Test. To level the series, the Men in Maroon need one more run than the best-scoring day. The last two days of the Test have seen rain playing a spoilsport. The same is expected on the final day as well. After four days of boring cricket, there is some excitement on the last day. 

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