Dour defiance from Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha through a long final session inched India towards a measure of respectability at 234 for five when stumps were drawn on the opening day of the third Test at the Darren Sammy National Stadium in St Lucia on Tuesday.
Their unbeaten sixth-wicket partnership of 108 occupied almost 41 overs and rescued the tourists from the considerable discomfort of 126 for five just before tea with West Indies’ second Test hero Roston Chase and debutant fast bowler Alzarri Joseph taking two wickets each to vindicate their captain’s decision to bowl first on winning the toss.
Both Ashwin and Saha had their moments of good fortune after tea, the off-spinning all-rounder being caught off a Shannon Gabriel no-ball while the wicketkeeper-batsman was missed off Chase at short-leg.
They will resume on the second morning with Ashwin on 75, in pursuit of his second century of the series, and Saha on 46.
West Indies grew increasingly frustrated as the partnership extended deep into final session with the taking of the second new ball backfiring on them as 46 runs were taken off nine overs before the close.
Joseph, the star performer for the West Indies Under-19’s in their World Cup triumph in Bangladesh last February, proved to be a sensible inclusion as he and Shannon Gabriel exploited the helpful bowling conditions in the first hour of the match.
Gabriel made the first breakthrough and Joseph celebrated his first Test match with the prized wicket of Indian captain Virat Kohli. Opening batsman Lokesh Rahul counter-attacked with an even 50 before falling to Chase’s off-spin just before lunch to break a 58-run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane.
Challenged by the extra pace and bounce, Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan struggled to cope with the early hostility of the fast bowlers. Dhawan gloved a lifting delivery from Gabriel to be caught down the leg-side by wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich and then Joseph made the vital breakthrough in just his third over in Test cricket, steepling bounce proving too difficult for Kohli to negotiate as he fended a catch to Darren Bravo at first slip.
Rahul and Rahane opted to play positively in seeking to steady the Indian innings and their tactics proved successful as the runs flowed at better than four runs per over. However it was Chase who separated the third-wicket pair. Having just reached the half-century mark with six fours off 65 balls, Rahul attempted to turn a delivery to the leg-side where Kraigg Brathwaite dived forward from short fine-leg to come up with the catch.
Joseph snared his second wicket early into the afternoon session when Rohit Sharma edged a full-lnegth delivery through to the wicketkeeper. Ashwin then joined Rahane in a partnership defined by stoic defence with only 43 runs coming in the two hours of the afternoon session.
However Rahane fell five minutes the tea, missing a Chase full toss to depart for 35 and ushering in Saha to continue in similar vein, although for much longer, with the determined Ashwin.
Leading 1-0 and needing to win the series 3-0 to displace Australia at the top of the international rankings, India dropped Cheteshwar Pujara to give Sharma his first match of the campaign and also omitted leg-spinner Amit Mishra and fast bowler Umesh Yadav in preference for left-arm orthodox slow bowler Ravindra Jadeja and seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Apart from introducing Joseph to Test cricket, the West Indies drafted in Leon Johnson at the top of the order for his first match in 19 months in place of the out-of-form Rajendra Chandrika.