Gros Islet: India suffered a late batting collapse, allowing the West Indies to sneak back into the contest after Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha struck fighting centuries on day two of the third Test here on Thursday.
India lost their last five wickets for 37 runs to be 353 all out in the second session. The visitors looked set for a much bigger total when Ashwin (118) and Saha (104) were at the crease but the wicketkeeper-batsman's dismissal not only ended a marathon 213 run partnership, it also triggered a batting collapse.
The West Indies responded strongly to India's first innings effort, reaching 107 for one at close of play to trail by 246 runs. Kraigg Brathwaite (53*) and Darren Bravo (18*) came up with a spirited batting effort to give their team a promising start.
Post tea, Leon Johnson (23) and Brathwaite started off from 16/0 as Ashwin (0-17) started proceedings. But that was a ploy to change ends for Mohammed Shami (0-35) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (0-11). Though they got a little more purchase from this move, the batsmen were never really in trouble and brought up their 50-partnership in 114 balls. It was the first time the West Indies openers had crossed this mark in the Test series so far.
But their joy was short lived, as Lokesh Rahul made amends for his dropping of Johnson (on 4*) at second slip off Shami early in the innings. Stationed at short midwicket, he was quick to pick up the ball and a direct hit at the non-striker's end sent Johnson back to the pavilion in the 24th over.
Bravo came to the crease then, and together batted out 23 overs with Brathwaite as the two batsmen saw off the remainder of the session without much bother and put on 48 runs for the second wicket. The pitch seemed to have eased out completely and the bowlers didn't get much purchase out of it, even as Ravindra Jadeja (0-9) made the batsmen play as much as possible.
But at the same time, Ishant Sharma (0-26) was guilty of bowing short and wide to the batsmen. Brathwaite made full use of it, bringing up the 100-mark in the last over of the day, and reaching his fifty off 141 balls in the same over.
In the post lunch session, Ashwin finally broke free of the shackles on 99* and smacked Roston Chase (2-70) over midwicket for a six to reach his fourth Test hundred, off 265 balls, and indeed his fourth against the same opposition. He joined a select group of players -- Richie Benaud (vs South Africa in 1957-58), Tony Greig (vs West Indies in 1973-74) and Ian Botham (vs Australia in 1981) -- to take multiple five-wicket hauls and score multiple hundreds in the same Test series.
At the other end, Saha (104 runs, 227 balls, 13 fours) too reached his maiden Test hundred off 223 balls, and in doing so, the duo brought up their 200-run stand.
Saha couldn't go on for long though, edging Alzarri Joseph (3-69) behind soon after, bringing an end to the mega partnership that saved India the blushes.
Ravindra Jadeja (6) came to the crease and hit a couple lusty blows, but was dismissed by Miguel Cummins (3-54), caught behind, the fast bowler taking 281 deliveries for his first Test wicket. But this was the start of a 10-ball burst from the bowler, taking three wickets in all, as he wrapped up the Indian tail. Ashwin (118 runs, 297 balls, 6 fours) was finally caught at gully off him in the 130th over, and Ishant Sharma (0) was bounced out, with Shannon Gabriel (2-84) dismissing Bhuvneshwar Kumar (0) at the other end.
Earlier, starting at the overnight score of 234/5, the two batsmen once again looked sturdy and intent to play for time. The ball was still new, as Joseph and Gabriel started off proceedings. But it seemed the pitch had calmed down a bit since day one as there was not much bite in the West Indies bowling this second morning.
Saha got to his third Test half-century off 135 balls, and thereafter India's 250-mark came up in the 97th over. But the two batsmen were still not looking to get on with the scoring rate as they looked to settle down and play a long innings that would give their team the upper hand once again.
They were helped in this endeavour by some wayward bowling from Cummins and Gabriel, while skipper Jason Holder (0-34) himself wasn't too penetrative either.
Chase meanwhile persisted with his leg-stump line, bowling to a predominantly leg-side field to Ashwin, and thus looking to dry up the runs. The two batsmen didn't mind as only 21 runs came in the first hour of play spanning 13 overs. However in the second hour of this morning session, the scoring rate finally picked up a bit as a more-confident Saha played some fine shots.
He wasn't too aggressive, but looked positive against the pacers and looked to attack Chase whenever possible, as he quickly caught up in the nervous 90s with his teammate.
Ashwin though was dropped on 92*, as he hit Chase straight to Johnson at short leg in the 110th over. Thereafter he lingered on quite a bit, especially on 99*, and it helped bring up the 150-mark of the duo's partnership off 358 deliveries. Previously, the Indian 300-mark had also come up in the 113th over.
Saha's eagerness meant that 51 runs came off the last 10 overs going into the lunch break, a second session without any loss of wickets for India. But neither of the two batsmen could then go on to score their respective hundreds surprisingly enough, even as 82 runs came in the morning session.
On day one, West Indies won the toss and elected to field. India were reduced to 130/5 at one stage, after which Ashwin and Saha rescued the innings with an unbeaten century stand.