St John's (Antigua): On a day marked by a lot of emotion and drama, Ajay Ratra and Anil Kumble stood out for their heroics as India started entertaining slim hopes of winning the fourth Test against West Indies and regain lead in the five-match series.
First it was Ratra, who struck his maiden Test hundred (an unbeaten 115), to become the first specialist Indian wicket-keeper to score a century on foreign soil and help his side declare its first innings at an imposing 513 for nine. Then came Anil Kumble, with his head heavily bandaged due to the fracture on his jaw sustained from the blow he took from a Mervyn Dillon delivery while batting on the second day, who produced an outstanding spell and claimed the prized wicket of Brian Lara as the West Indies saw itself pushed on the back foot after a decent start.
The hosts finished the third day at 187 for three, with Ramnaresh Sarwan batting on 50 and skipper Carl Hooper on 26, but they were clearly rattled by the courageous effort of Kumble and were lucky not to have lost some more wickets. Kumble very nearly sent back Hooper not once but thrice and the West Indian captain, who is the highest scorer in this series so far, must be thanking his Gods for finding himself at the crease at the end of the day.
However, with just two days remaining and only 127 more runs needed by West Indies to avoid the follow on, there is still a lot of hard work ahead of the Indians when play resumes on the fourth day. West Indies started its innings on a fluent note with Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle putting up the best first wicket partnership for their team in the series so far. With the pitch offering absolutely no aid to the fast bowlers, runs came easily and the two batsmen quickly put on 65 runs before India tasted its first success through Zaheer Khan.
A beautiful delivery from the left-arm seamer pitched on the good length spot, rose slightly more than expected and brushed Gayle's gloves on the way to wicket-keeper Ratra even as the batsman tried to pull his bat away. Gayle was out for 32, which included five boundaries. Indians were really unfortunate not to have dismissed Hinds cheaply earlier. Twice he offered simple chances and both times the fielders were found wanting. Hinds, playing his first Test of the series after he was picked on the strength of a magnificent 175 for the Busta XI in a three-day game against the Indians, flicked Zaheer Khan off his toes straight into the hands of Shiv Sunder Das at mid-wicket but the fielder let it slip out.
A few overs later, Hinds edged Sachin Tendulkar to Rahul Dravid in the slips but once again the catch was grassed. Hinds went on to make 65 before Tendulkar bowled him around his legs with a delivery that spun the other way. West Indies lost its second wicket at 121. However, by this time India was already missing the services of its fourth bowler and a spinner as the three pacemen, though accurate, were unable to pose too many problems to the batsmen. In came Kumble, who until then was preparing to take a morning flight back to India to have his fracture operated upon.
Team physio Andrew Leipus had already announced that Kumble's injury needed a surgery and would not participate further in the series. But in a decision that spoke volumes about his commitment to the team cause and left the entire stadium overawed, Kumble walked into the field, ready to bowl to Lara who had joined Sarwan at the fall of Hinds. A wave of emotion swept the Indian team which suddenly felt re-invigorated by the courageous decision of Kumble. Ganguly tossed the ball to his most trusted wicket-taker and Kumble, as if he had a point or two to prove for his omission from the previous two Tests, bowled his heart out.
In his very third over, he trapped Lara leg before wicket for four, sending the entire Indian team into celebration and then concentrated his energies on Hooper. After every over, Kumble ran down to the boundary line where he was fielding, to get a fresh layer of bandage around his face from Leipus who stood beside him across the fence throughout and kept inquiring about his health. Kumble had Hooper caught by Das at forward short leg but umpire David Sheperd had already called it a no ball and the pain on Kumble's face was there for all to see. On the very next ball, Hooper edged a delivery that rose sharply and flew to the slips at great speed but Dravid failed in anticipating it and grassed it.
Hooper had earlier survived a very close leg before decision against Kumble with umpire Sheperd giving the benefit of doubt to the batsman. In the morning, Ratra scripted his own tale of heroism, scoring a Test hundred in only his third match. Resuming at his overnight 93 in the team's total of 462 for six, Ratra survived many anxious moments, including a close leg before decision and a blow on his fingers, before reaching the landmark with his 12th four. Only Vijay Manjrekar had the distinction of scoring a hundred for India at an overseas venue and keeping the wickets in the same match, when he hit 118 against the West Indies at Kingston in 1953. But Manjrekar was a specialist batsman and not a regular wicket-keeper and was doing the job for Padmanabh Joshi, who did not play in that match.
Farookh Engineer's 89 against Australia at Adelaide Oval in 1967 was the earlier highest for a regular Indian wicket-keeper in an overseas Test. After being stranded at 99 for 15 deliveries, a visibly nervous Ratra finally raised his hundred when he guided Dillon to the fine leg fence. Ratra's century was the second of the Indian innings after V V S Laxman had already completed his third Test hundred on the second day. Laxman could only six runs in the morning to his overnight 124 before stepping on the stumps while trying to fend off a rising delivery from Dillon.
His 217-run partnership with Ratra was the highest for any seventh wicket Indian pair against the West Indies. India lost two more wickets, those of Zaheer Khan (4) and Javagal Srinath, before declaring its innings about one and a half hours into the morning session with Ashish Nehra giving company to Ratra on one.