Ishant-inspired India take control in Antigua

An Indian captain reading a book at a cricket game is nothing groundbreaking. Mithali Raj did it long before Virat Kohli decided to pick a balcony seat at Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium and pore over a book titled “Detox Your Ego”. Little did he know that the Indian bowlers, high on a win in Australia but rusting from lack of red-ball cricket in the last seven months, would be needing a briefing from him soon after.

“It helps you improve the way you go about achieving your goals,” the book’s blurb reads, and nobody manifested it better than Ishant Sharma on the day. His plucky innings of 19 off 62 and then his bowling figures of 5 for 42 won India all three sessions on the second day.

As much of a reputation they come with now, India’s fast bowling for the first seven overs was insipid, notwithstanding how flat the pitch had become by then. Jasprit Bumrah was the least menacing he’s been in a while, Ishant had an economy rate of 6.5 in his first spell, and it took a quality inswinger in Mohammed Shami’s first over to see the back of John Campbell, one batsman who best gauged India’s vulnerability at the start and laid into them with a quickfire 23.

Campbell’s dismissal though marked an inflection point, when India started to believe that things could happen on this pitch. Ishant’s fuller deliveries were a liability to begin with but one of them soon found Kraigg Brathwaite reaching out for the drive and offering a sharp return catch. His wickets by the end of the day would include those of Roston Chase, Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, each of them more important and better timed than the one before.

Once Brathwaite, the most tenacious of West Indies batsmen, was accounted for by Shami, India could strike on either side of the lunch break to get Shamarh Brooks and Darren Bravo, the latter falling leg-before to become Bumrah’s only wicket on the day. At 88 for 4, it looked like familiar waters for West Indies where they would just collapse but that’s when Roston Chase’s 48 came to the rescue — once again in Antigua. Not quite a hundred for him this time, thanks to the cleverly placed short mid-wicket fielder Ishant had for him, but he did get West Indies up to 130 for 3 in response to India’s 297, a point from where the hosts could have dominated. But Ishant triggered a collapse late in the day with cross-seamed deliveries, picking three wickets for five runs to complete yet another five-wicket haul, his ninth in Tests.

India had started the day at 203 for 6, and finishing on 293 was largely due to Ravindra Jadeja’s 11th Test half-century that twinned with the resolve of Ishant Sharma, this time with the bat. The latter’s innings held significance not in terms of how many runs he scored, but how much. Kemar Roach had Rishabh Pant edging to second slip quite early on the second day, and looked like picking more with his peculiar angle from wide of the crease. He had undone right-handers Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari similarly on the first day, and had started the second by scalping a left-handed Pant from round the wicket. But Ishant, skillfully marshaled by Ravindra Jadeja from the other end, helped India survive that spell and then some.

It wasn’t surprising that it took an intelligent slow cutter from Shannon Gabriel to dismiss Ishant, who for now seems to have sealed his place in front of Mohammed Shami. It further helped that Shami was out second ball, offering a return catch to Roston Chase.

Jadeja, the last man to fall for India at the stroke of lunch, showed why his 81 against Australia in Sydney wasn’t a one-off. He helped India negotiate the overs up to the second new ball, and then took on the hard, new ball with a six almost immediately after reaching his fifty, in the process showing how his batting has come of age. The day would go on to show how West Indies’s batting hasn’t.

Brief Scores: India 297 (Ajinkya Rahane 81, Ravindra Jadeja 58; Kemar Roach 4-66, Shannon Gabriel 3-71) lead West Indies 189/8 (Roston Chase 48, Shimron Hetmyer 35; Ishant Sharma 5-42) by 108 runs runs

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