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India take giant strides towards victory

Last updated on 24 Jul 2023 | 03:10 AM
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India take giant strides towards victory

Mohammed Siraj and Indian batters helped India dominate the fourth day on a sub-par Trinidad surface

After the first three days saw run rates of 3.4, 2.8, and 2.1, respectively, the first two sessions came in like a breath of fresh air. It seemed like the Indians were keen on ensuring its fans did not miss out on aggressive red-ball action - and by that, we mean the Ashes. 

Having had only 67 overs of cricket on the third day, play started 30 mins early yesterday. West Indies had commendably played out the entire third day without too many casualties. Three days, two innings, and a lead of just over 200 - assuming India wanted the win, they started Day 4 on the back foot. 

In came Mohammed Siraj

A newish ball, some clouds, and Miyan was up and running. Two balls into his spell, he induced his first edge for the day. Jason Holder attempted a drive off a full-length delivery, but Siraj managed to generate just enough swing to get Holder to edge one between the gully and the point region. 

Three balls later, another outswinger and Holder’s edge this time found the keeper’s gloves safely. The sight of West Indies’ tail had Siraj’s tail up. He swung the ball with great control, and the West Indian tailenders were no match. 

He cleaned up the tail with an inswinger, outswinger, and an inswinger, respectively. How prolific he was in his spell can be seen in how he mixed his away-swinging and in-swinging deliveries. Of the 22 balls he bowled in the first hour, he got 20 to move - 10 away and 10 into the batter. 

Siraj’s career-best figures helped India bundle the hosts for 255, but that was just the job half done. They still had to set an imposing target and give themselves enough overs to bowl them out again. And all of this had to be done within five sessions. 

The fact that the average run rate had progressively gotten slower didn’t help India’s cause either. But the Indian openers were having none of that. They lost their first wicket at 98, with two balls still to go in the twelfth over. Post the openers, Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill's partnership ensured that the run rate never dipped below seven. 

While the boundaries came in thick and fast, a key feature of the onslaught was their ability to rotate strike regularly. Strike rotation helped in minimizing the number of dot balls faced, and this was exactly the case in the third innings. They were also aided by the fact that Kraigg Brathwaite set up extremely defensive fields to limit boundary scoring.

Despite having seen that shorter lengths had been the easiest to score off in in the first three days, West Indian bowlers continued to err on that side of the pitch. Their pacers bowled the majority of their deliveries beyond the 8m mark, and the Indian top four obliged.

Although, they had to resort to the short ball ploy because of how consistently they failed to hit the right lengths. The 143 overs bowled by pacers in the first two innings had seen them attack the 6m - 8m length a lot more. Over 40% of the balls bowled were in this region, and batters had only managed to score at 1.8 RPO. To set some more context, outside the 6m - 8m length, batters have scored at 4.2 RPO in this Test.

With this, it seemed only obvious that WI pacers would look to bowl these lengths to put the Indian batters under pressure. But what transpired was exactly opposite. They ended up bowling around 20% of their deliveries between 6m - 8m, and Indian batters exploited this inconsistency to their advantage.  

Indian pacers also seemed to have been bitten by this bug in the final session, as they came in with a clear focus on bowling short to WI batters. It did help them in limiting run-scoring, but given the match situation, India’s focus will have to be on taking wickets. And that’s where the experienced spin duo made it count for India. 

R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been masters at bowling the same lengths repeatedly, and they were at it once again. They one-upped the 87.5% deliveries bowled in the 4m - 6m length in the first innings with 92.7% in the second innings.

For West Indies, the plan was clear in the fourth innings. Brathwaite respected the good balls and attacked the bad balls, while Tagenarine Chanderpaul came in with the intention of just occupying the crease. This continued with the WI skipper’s dismissal as well. Jermaine Blackwood replaced him in the middle and took his time to settle. Once settled, he also played his shots with freedom.

The men from the Caribbean now need 289 runs on the final day, one more than the most runs scored in a day - 288 made by India on Day 1. The way they ended the day means that they haven’t entirely given up on the chase yet. However, Tagenarine will be the most important cog in this run chase. His staying on will give the rest of the lineup the security to play their shots and, perhaps, even achieve the impossible. 

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