Many empty seats stood out sorely. Obviously, the fans had waited for the toss and rescheduled their plans once the West Indies elected to bat at the Eden Gardens.
Yet, they missed an afternoon of engaging cricket when debutant Mohammad Shami came up with a delightful spell of fast bowling that reaffirmed the old school of thought regarding the blooding of youngsters. Shami did it on Wednesday, and Rohit Sharma’s performance will be much awaited as the first Test, Sachin Tendulkar’s 199th, commenced on a rousing note.
Losing its way
From a healthy 138 for two, the West Indies slid to 234, a series of indiscreet shots conceding the advantage to India, which finished the day at 37 for no loss, with openers Shikhar Dhawan and M. Vijay weathering some short-pitched stuff from debutant Sheldon Cottrell.
Each session had its moments. The two crucial strikes before lunch, and five after it kept the contest in a competitive mode.
Shami made an impact. So did Bhuvneshwar Kumar with his stifling spell.
There was batting to be relished too as Marlon Samuels dealt with the ball on merit, sometimes indulging in adventurism. But it was cricket to be enjoyed on a balmy afternoon. Not so balmy, perhaps, for Darren Sammy and his men, as they contrived to invite destruction to their camp — the skipper guilty of setting a poor example.
It was apparent that the West Indian batsmen had their priorities wrong, the effects of an overdose of one-day cricket characterising their presence at the crease.
A series of undisciplined shots — starting with a static prod from Chris Gayle — brought grief to the West Indies, and these follies were strikingly exposed by Shami, who made a wonderful debut at his home ground.
As he led the fielders off the field, a wave of warm appreciation from curator Prabir Mukherjee confirmed Shami’s superb response to the situation. He knew how and where to land the ball on this pitch.
Shami was clearly the star even though Tendulkar stole the limelight for a brief while with a wicket off his fourth ball after setting up the batsman in the last over before tea.
Shami is a deceptive and determined bowler who loves to work up pace. Nothing delights him more than getting into his rhythm early, and Wednesday morning saw him at his best. After all, he was only bowling in his own backyard.
The opposition did not matter, for Shami believes in striving whatever be the level of the contest.
Hitting the deck consistently, Shami, whose seam position can be a matter of envy for his fellow seamers, hustled and hurried the batsmen with his back-of-the-length attack, his smooth run-up that belies his effort at the delivery stage, the ball coming on quicker off the pitch than the batsmen would expect.
At times bowling without a slip in the afternoon, Shami attacked the stumps and reaped reward as the ball skidded dangerously.
He brought off a run-out too as Darren Bravo, batting untroubled till then, had a moment of madness.
Gayle had fallen to a casual prod, but worse was to follow when Kieran Powell played a shot best attempted off the final delivery of a T20 contest.
He swung at a bouncer and skied the ball to mid-off. The shot, sort of, was representative of the West Indian batting in the second session, wayward and lacking in conviction.
But Samuels remained an exception.
He came up with some daring strokes, and looked in supreme control when driving on the rise, a tough ask on this surface.
Samuels batted to his potential but ran into an inspired Shami, now in his third spell, the most impressive of the day. He surprised Samuels with one that swung in sharply and hit the top of the middle stump.
Shami next stunned Denesh Ramdin, who was left clueless against an in-swinging delivery.
The West Indian middle-order succumbed, with the exception of Shivnarine Chanderpaul who ran out of partners, all of them perishing to casual shots.
Shami conceded some easy boundaries but grabbed wickets, and that should do a world of good for his ambitions now.
Tendulkar was bestowed the honour of leading the players off every session, but the master pushed this Bengal bowler ahead as they retired for the tea break.
The script was written perfectly for Shami, who was handed his Test cap by Ishant Sharma, who is now resigned to carrying drinks.
West Indies — 1st innings: Chris Gayle c Vijay b Bhuvneshwar 18 (32b, 4x4), Kieran Powell c Bhuvneshwar b Shami 28 (40b, 5x4, 1x6), Darren Bravo run out 23 (96b, 2x4, 1x6), Marlon Samuels b Shami 65 (98b, 11x4, 2x6), Shivnarine Chanderpaul b Ashwin 36 (79b, 3x4), Denesh Ramdin b Shami 4 (4b, 1x4), Darren Sammy c Bhuvneshwar b Ojha 16 (19b, 3x4), Shane Shillingford lbw b Tendulkar 5 (39b), Veerasammy Permaul c & b Ashwin 14 (27b, 3x4), Tino Best (not out) 14 (30b, 2x4), Sheldon Cottrell b Shami 0 (4b); Extras (b-4, lb-7): 11; Total (in 78 overs): 234.
Fall of wickets: 1-34 (Gayle), 2-47 (Powell), 3-138 (Samuels), 4-138 (Bravo), 5-143 (Ramdin), 6-172 (Sammy), 7-192 (Shillingford), 8-211 (Permaul), 9-233 (Chanderpaul).
India bowling: Bhuvneshwar Kumar 14-6-33-1, Mohammad Shami 17-2-71-4, Ashwin 21-9-52-2, Pragyan Ojha 24-6-62-1, Sachin Tendulkar 2-1-5-1.
India — 1st innings: Shikhar Dhawan (batting) 21 (27b, 4x4), M. Vijay (batting) 16 (45b, 2x4); Total (for no loss in 12 overs): 37.
West Indies bowling: Tino Best 2-0-15-0, Sheldon Cottrell 5-2-13-0, Shane Shillingford 4-2-8-0, Veerasammy Permaul 1-0-1-0.