Cricket: Final hour is last straw for tourists

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West Indies..............443 India...............379-9

Repeatedly in this series, the West Indies have had call to pine for the absent Curtly Ambrose, back home in far-off Antigua resting his overworked shoulder for duty against Australia and England in the New Year.

They sorely missed him again yesterday on the third afternoon of a third and final Test they must win to keep their extended record of not losing a series for close to 15 years.

Inspired by their captain, Courtney Walsh, their pace-based attack had whittled its way through the Indian batting on a run-filled pitch so that they came to the last pair 40 minutes before the advertised close still 120 ahead with two full days remaining.

It was an equation to prompt optimism but, by then, Walsh was at the end of his physical tether after extending himself for 22 overs, Cameron Cuffy was completing a spell in which he took two of his three wickets in successive overs and, without Ambrose,there was no one to complete the job as Kenny Benjamin and Andy Cummins were found wanting.

The upshot was that Javagal Srinath, the tall, wiry fast bowler who had shown his batting colours with 60 in the first Test and the last man, Venkatapathy Raju, batted through until fading light brought an end to the day an hour and five minutes later. They took India to within 64 runs of the West Indies and there is hardly sufficient time for their opponents to create any further problems for them.

If the final hour was frustrating for the West Indies it was hardly more stunning than the first. Benjamin claimed Sanjay Manjrekar lbw within the first 15 minutes which only let in Sachin Tendulkar who launched such an immediate and devastating assault on the bowling that he reeled off eight boundaries, with every known stroke, with 35 runs in three-quarters of an hour before the drinks break brought welcome relief. The first hour yielded 67 from 13 overs and, with opener Manoj Prabhakar following Tendulkar's lead, 13 boundaries.

As all captains should, Walsh stepped forward to lead from the front and a classic confrontation between the new champion and the wily veteran followed. The latter won, Walsh containing the rampant Tendulkar with high-quality fast bowling to such an extent that he was confined to two scoring strokes from his next 19 deliveries. When he tried to free himself, he top-edged an intended pull off Cuffy and was caught at cover for 40.

Although Prabhakar advanced to his first Test 100 in his 36th Test the West Indies bowlers made regular inroads into the Indian order through the afternoon. Before tea Cummins got rid of Mohammad Azharuddin and Benjamin accounted for the nervous Vinod Kambli by tea.

Prabhakar was eventually caught behind off the tireless Walsh for 120, 40 minutes into the final session after six and three-quarter hours batting. And the West Indies had cause for hope as Cuffy removed Ashish Kapoor and Anil Kumble and Cummins forced Nayan Mongia to tread on his stumps.

Then came Srinath and Raju with Ambrose no closer than the end of the radio commentary half-way across the world.

(Third day; West Indies won toss)