Edwards and Collymore hang on

Courage under pressure. It is what great cricketers are made of. And if only for one evening in the intense fervor of the Antigua Recreation Ground, Fidel Edwards and Corey Collymore were nothing short of great.

Against the odds and despite the best efforts of a desperate Indian team, the West Indies survived the first Test match with a drawn result and just one wicket standing. For a game with such twists, turns, controversies and shifts of power, it deserved no less.

As Collymore strolled to the middle to take guard, the West Indies required 95 runs for victory, but with a solitary wicket in hand 19 balls remaining in the match, the goal was clearly one of survival. With each passing moment and each plot and scheme, the drama only intensified. The chatter around the ground was one of solemn contemplation, if not eager anticipation.

And with the odds stacked firmly in the court of India, the West Indian tailenders staged a measure of epic defiance. A great escape was on the cards as Collymore took strike for the final over the game. He had witnessed his partner Edwards battle through 5 balls from spearhead Anil Kumble at the other end, and now the found his moment in the spotlight.

Young Sreesanth was the man charged with the responsibility, and just 6 balls left and one wicket apart. It is difficult to predict what goes through the mind of a cricketer at any stage in a game, but with everything on the line, it is far closer to impossible. Corey Collymore survived the final 6 balls of the match, leaving alone the ultimate delivery as it thumped into his pads. It was clear that the ball would not hit the stumps, but with all the drama that had gone before, it was necessary to wait for umpire Rauf’s shake of the head before breathing was an option once more.

Collymore was unbeaten on 1, facing 8 deliveries in the process. His partner Edwards went even further beyond the call of duty, negotiating 36 balls and spending more than 10 overs in the middle.

It is a day that will long be remembered in the lore of cricket on this ground, and certainly a fitting finale to its storied history. The Antigua Recreation Ground may have witnessed two Brian Lara world records and countless huge scores, but this farewell provided as much entertainment as all that came before.

The spectators arrived at the ground with high hopes of a thrilling day’s cricket and potentially a West Indian win. Though the likelihood of home victory had all but disappeared midway through the final session, there was certainly not a person dissatisfied at the end of it all.

Openers Daren Ganga and Chris Gayle resumed from an overnight 13-0, and some careful batting marked the early play. It was not long, however, before fluency shone through in the game of Ganga. As if on cue, Gayle fired a six over midwicket off VRV Singh and the score advanced confidently. From 67-0, the progress was significant enough that victory seemed a viable option.

However, it took just 23 balls to change that perspective. Ganga (36) first perished to a superb close catch by Yuvraj Singh off Kumble. But it was the double strike of Sreesanth that followed to change the game. The bowler, who would later be entrusted with the final over of the contest, removed vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan (1) and captain Brian Lara (0) to dismantle the leadership committee of the West Indies. It could have been worse too, as Gayle survived a confident shout against Kumble, which replays showed to be an erroneous decision by umpire Simon Taufel.

From 72-3, the twist kept twisting and giving way to turns. Playing himself back into Test form, Shivnarine Chanderpaul joined Gayle and the two soldiered onward to tea without further loss. The sublime timing of Chanderpaul matched the stoutly positive batsmanship of Gayle and the two appeared to be on course to save the Test match.

A teatime score of 158-3 looked secure, but the ingredients of a classic soon conspired to appear once more. Kumble broke through with Gayle’s wicket for 69, then had Chanderpaul caught well by Dravid for 62. The two wickets in the space of 7.5 overs turned the game again.

Dwayne Bravo (28) and Denesh Ramdin (8) followed to the unexpected flourish of Virender Sehwag’s offspin. The latter added another daft shot to his list of procured dismissals, and it seemed the tail had been left with too much to do.

A further 20.5 overs remained at the disposal of India and 3 wickets were all that remained intact for the West Indies. Champions Trophy hero Ian Bradshaw got down to his usual business, in a manner of speaking. The left-hander played his characteristic courage card and guided an antsy Dave Mohammed through 10.1 overs of the allotment.

Munaf Patel returned to the attack with the new ball and supplied another adrenaline boost. The seamer roared with an appeal for the wicket of Bradshaw, and saw it upheld, though replays showed the ball missing the edge of the bat. A disheartened Bradshaw trudged off the ground giving rise to his countryman Edwards, injured and with a runner, and with 10.4 overs remaining.

The agitated Mohammed calmed down from his delusions of strokeplay and settled into a mature innings alongside Edwards. Running for the injured fast bowler was Ganga, who displayed admirable leadership qualities in communicating with both batsmen between balls.

Every delivery negotiated was a battle won in a pulsating war. Mohammed tamed himself toward the very end, and then inexplicably allowed a final twist to the tale. In the previous over, he had survived a missed stumping chance by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and narrowly avoided being caught by Dravid at slip. It was not enough to curb youthful exuberance. Mohammed reached his half-century, then a sinful attempt to score unnecessary runs resulted in his stumps being rattled by Kumble.

Hearts in mouths then and some heads firmly bowed. Stern-faced Collymore took the long walk the crease, where he would essay his finest batting achievement to date. The great escape, indeed.

India 1st innings 241 all out
Rahul Dravid 49, Virender Sehwag 36
Dwayne Bravo 4-40, Corey Collymore 3-27

West Indies 1st innings 371 all out
Chris Gayle 72, Dwayne Bravo 68
Anil Kumble 3-86, Munaf Patel 3-80

India 2nd innings 521-6 dec
Wasim Jaffer 212, MS Dhoni 69, Rahul Dravid 62
Dave Mohammad 3-162

West Indies 2nd innings 298-9
Chris Gayle 69, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 62, Dave Mohammed 52
Anil Kumble 4-107, Virender Sehwag 2-39

Match drawn.

Cricket Web Man of the Match: Wasim Jaffer – 1 and 212

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