The Antigua Pitch

The first Test of the WI v India series reached in to the final session on Day 4, with India registering an innings win by 92 runs, their largest win outside Asia. R Ashwin has continued his remarkable bowling form by bagging 7 wickets in the 2nd innings, and the man of the match award.

The playing surface at the Sir Vivian Richards ground was terrific; there was a slight grass covering on Day 1, with sufficient bounce available for¬†pacers willing to bend their backs, and for spinners daring the batsmen by tossing the ball up. It is to the groundsman’s credit that the first three days of the Test saw pacers making most of the damage while batsmen willing to get set making the runs, and the pitch sufficiently deteriorating to take turn on Day 4.

If only the West Indies were a bit more competent with both bat and ball, they could have easily pushed the game in to the fifth day and we could have witness possibly even more natural wear and tear of the track in Antigua.

As India decided to bat after winning the toss, Shannon Gabriel hustled the Indian top order with his pace and bounce; M Vijay was out caught fending of a vicious short delivery. He didn’t take the field later at all as he was protecting his injured right hand. Shikhar Dhawan was caught in a tangle a fair few times but survived long enough to register his first half century in a while.¬†Once the threat of Gabriel was blunted, Carlos Brathwaite and Jason Holder did not pose enough threat to the remaining Indian batsman, and led by Kohli, the visitors piled on a massive first innings total.

It was quite revealing that 8 of the 10 Windies wickets in their first innings fell to the duo of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, both operating at good pace but showing the ability to generate bounce off good length. Shami especially stood out by extracting lateral movement off the pitch, nothing alarming mind you, but just enough to find the edges by hitting the seam consistently. Shami accounted for the outmatched R Chandrika, Jermaine Blackwood and Darren Bravo with bounce, cajoled out of the pitch with that an extra oomph of effort; hustled Marlon Samuels out with seam movement. Yadav took out K Brathwaite and Roston Chase with bounce, and winkled out Holder and C Brathwaite with the aid of swing – out and in.

R Ashwin who was expected by all and sundry to run circles around the inexperienced WI line up, went wicketless in the first dig. It wasn’t till the 2nd session on Day 4 did Ashwin finally find success. Although he beat Chandrika in flight and caused the ball to dart between bat and pad, Ashwin was lucky to get his first wicket as there appeared a definite day light between bat and ball, but Umpire Aleem Dar seemed confident enough to send the batsman on his way, who accepted it with no apparent dismay or dissent.

It wasn’t just the turn that was available on the Day 4 pitch that Ashwin was exploiting, but also the drift made possible by the revolutions put on the ball and the stiff breeze blowing across the ground. Marlon Samuels who was well set on 50 was made to look silly; the drift opened up a huge gap between Holder’s bat and pad allowing Ashwin to drive a truck that turns viciously through; Chase who looked quite composed for a debutant in his first innings was defeated by the dip; and the bounce off the pitch defeating Blackwood. All in all, it was a special display of offspin bowling, an overmatched opposition notwithstanding.

Overall, the 22-yard strip at North Sound, Antigua was an exemplary sporting track with something in it for every one – bowlers, batsmen and fielders. Enough bounce for the bowlers to keep the batsmen honest at all times; True bounce with no alarming lateral movement for batsmen that allow themselves to get set to make big scores; catches not falling short of the slip fielders; reasonable deterioration of the surface to aid spin on Day 4; everything one would want in a cricket pitch. It was just a shame that one of the two teams that played on it was so severely weak that the cricketing contest was over the moment Virat Kohli registered his highest first class score.

Mohd SHami’s 4-fer

Ashwin’s 7-fer

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