Port of Spain (Trinidad): Brian Lara sustained the West Indies' hopes of successfully chasing a stiff 313-run target with an unbeaten 40 in the second Test against India on Monday. The prolific left-hander batted comfortably against the Indian pace-spin combination to help his team reach 131 for two at stumps on a fourth day of fluctuating fortunes at the Queen's Park Oval. Skipper Carl Hooper was the other not-out batsman on one when bad light stopped play 19 overs before stumps. The hosts now require 182 more runs with eight wickets in hand to win as the match heads for an exciting finish on a slow pitch of variable bounce.
The West Indies was indebted to pacemen Mervyn Dillon (four for 42) and Cameron Cuffy (three for 53) for bouncing back into the game after conceding a 94-run lead. Dillon and Cuffy shared five wickets to trigger a sensational Indian collapse that saw the tourists lose their last six batsmen for just 13 in 10 overs. India was all out for 218 in its second innings after being strongly placed at 205 for four, with skipper Saurav Ganguly top-scoring with an impressive 75 not out. The West Indies initially faltered against pace, losing opener Stuart Williams (13) before being steadied by Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan (41) and Chris Gayle.
Veteran fast bowler Javagal Srinath provided the breakthrough when he had Williams caught by Rahul Dravid at first slip. India then had to wait for more than three hours for the next wicket as Sarwan batted confidently with Gayle and then Lara. The left-handed Gayle (21) retired hurt due to cramps in his left hand, but there was no respite for India as Lara and Sarwan looked in good form. Sarwan was well set when he threw away his wicket, edging off spinner Harbhajan Singh to lone-slip Dravid while attempting to steer. He struck five attractive fours in his 109-ball knock.
Lara played a solid rather than spectacular innings, patiently waiting for the loose deliveries to punish. The West Indies looked to Lara to drive home the advantage given by Dillon and Cuffy early in the day. Dillon took three wickets in his six overs and Cuffy two off successive deliveries during their incisive spells with the second new ball after the tourists had resumed at 165 for four. Ganguly alone defied the West Indies attack, but only to see wickets falling at regular intervals from the other end.
None of the lower-order batsmen could cope with the West Indian pace duo after a 149-run stand for the fifth wicket between Ganguly and Venkat Sai Laxman (74). Ganguly, 48 overnight, had completed his 16th Test half-century when rain stopped play after just four deliveries in the morning, glancing fast bowler Adam Sanford for a four. When play resumed after a 35-minute break, Dillon dismissed Laxman in his second over with the second new ball, taken after 80 overs at 201 for four. Laxman inside-edged a Dillon delivery on to his stumps after adding 14 to his overnight score of 60, hitting nine fours in his 157-ball knock.
The West Indies did not to have to struggle for wickets after breaking the Laxman- Ganguly stand as Cuffy trapped Ajay Ratra leg before and then had Harbhajan caught by first slip Gayle off consecutive balls. Srinath denied Cuffy a hat-trick with a defensive push, but did not last long as he edged Dillon to third-slip Williams, who dived to his right to bring off a low catch. Zaheer Khan was run out for four as Ganguly attempted to take a risky single off the last ball before lunch in order to regain the strike. Ganguly regained the strike, but faced a maiden over from Cuffy who kept pitching outside the off-stump to deny the Indian captain a single. Dillon ended the Indian innings when he bowled Ashish Nehra with his first ball after lunch.