Mumbai: India missed a chance to claim a series whitewash against West Indies as they only managed to score 242 runs with one wicket left from their 243-run target in the third Test at Mumbai.
The draw was the predicted result at the start of the final day in Wankhede. It was a draw alright, but instead of the widely expected borefest, the teams served up one of the most extraordinary days of Test cricket, with the game ending with the scores level for only the second time in Tests.
R Ashwin was the Man of the Match and Man of the Series, but wasn't the man of the moment for India when they needed two off the final delivery - he took a single, but bizarrely didn't set off immediately for the tight second that could have sealed the win, and the clean sweep for India. He was run out, ending an hour of almost unbearable tension that showcased Test cricket's slow-burn thrills. Fidel Edwards, a man renowned for securing nail-biting draws with the bat, had done the job with the ball in the final over this time.
A comatose Test had sprung to life on the final morning in Mumbai, as Pragyan Ojha and Ashwin ran through the West Indian line-up courtesy a combination of quality spin and atrocious shot selection. That left India a tricky 243 to get in 64 overs. Virender Sehwag then concocted another brisk half-century to set the early pace, before Virat Kohli forged his second Test fifty in two days to seal his place at No. 6 for the Boxing Day Test and keep India's pursuit on course.
With ten overs to go, India were well in control - 42 short with Kohli and Ashwin at the crease, both youngsters brimming with confidence after making plenty of runs on the fourth day, and having their places for the tour of Australia confirmed earlier in the day. The pair nervelessly took India to within 19, and victory seemed a formality. That was when Kohli top-edged a catch to a hobbling Darren Sammy at gully.
That put Ashwin in the spotlight. He has revelled under responsibility all series, but the biggest test of his temperament had just arrived, as the required-rate increasingly gained significance. He was remarkably composed, often counselling the tail-enders as the match wound its way to an impossibly tense finish. The most common chant in Indian grounds is the "Sachin, Sachin" mantra - the first word stretched out, the second short and sharp. A similar chant went around the Wankhede, only Sachin's name was replaced by Ashwin's.
As the light faded, so too did the West Indian fielding. They missed a plethora of direct hits, including off successive deliveries in the penultimate over. One precise throw could have been a match-turner. Ishant Sharma began with a classic off-drive for four, and then scraped singles with Ashwin to bring it down to four runs needed off eight, with two wickets remaining.
Ravi Rampaul then got reward for his give-it-everything burst, getting a ball to swerve past Ishant's bat and take out legstump. The debutant Varun Aaron walked out, under far more pressure than he would have ever faced in a fledgling career. He inside-edged a single to keep strike for the final over. Three needed.
Edwards bowled with the in-field crammed and only third man and fine leg deep to prevent any edged boundaries. His first ball was too quick for Aaron, the second was sharply fielded at cover, and third was a tailenders' mow that connected with nothing. A take-it-easy mid-pitch conversation followed. Rather than the batsman, it was the West Indian fielding that took it easy though, as yet another misfield provided an opening, with Marlon Samuels conceding a single to bring Ashwin on strike.
Two off two then. Ashwin edged the penultimate ball onto the pad. No run, but with two wickets in hand, an India defeat had now been taken out of the equation. He pummelled the final delivery to long-on, and though Aaron was haring back to the non-striker's end, Ashwin was slow to attempt the second, giving more time for a run-out at the keeper's end. When it mattered, the throw was spot on, Ashwin was run out with the scores level.
The drama at the death made the topsy-turvy events of the morning seem humdrum. It had taken India nearly six sessions to get eight West Indian wickets in the first innings, but the same feat required little more than an hour on the final morning. The difference between West Indies' totals was 456, the fourth-largest in Test history, yet again highlighting their inability to put together two solid innings.
Ojha sparked the collapse by removing West Indies' best batsman of the series, Darren Bravo, and their most experienced, Samuels, in one over. He snared the first five wickets of the innings, before Ashwin joined the party, and the two were in a race to top the series' wickets chart. It ended Ashwin 22, Ojha 20.
While one Caribbean collapse a Test is almost the norm, it was expected that even if India lost a few early wickets, the stalwarts in the middle order would at least hold out for a safety-first draw - especially against an attack that was missing Sammy, troubled by a leg injury. Devendra Bishoo was also hampered by a thigh injury. Sehwag made the most of three dropped catches, and though it wasn't his usual blast-from-the-start innings, there was plenty of typical audacity as he powered India along at five an over.
It was all India as they motored past 100, before the twist duly arrived. Sehwag, the great entertainer, found an unusual way to get out - top-edging a full toss outside leg to short fine leg after attempting an insouciant reverse-paddle. Samuels then made up for the eyesore of a stroke he attempted earlier in the day, by wheedling out the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
India still had the iron-clad guarantee of VVS Laxman, perhaps the finest final-innings player around. For once, he couldn't stay till the end, and when another famous finisher, MS Dhoni, followed him soon after, it was down to the new boys, Kohli and Ashwin. They might not have taken India over the line, but were instrumental in one of the most dramatic denouements in Test history.
If Test cricket's obituarists hadn't been daunted by Zimbabwe's brave but failed chase in Bulawayo, or the twists-and-turns of the South Africa v Australia series, this match should certainly keep them at bay.