It has always been a breeding ground for Indian Batting Heroes, and a group of countries where all Indian Cricketers are loved! No doubt the Indians love the West Indian team too! The flamboyant brand of cricket the Caribbean cricketers play, their easy go lucky, laid back attitude, doesn’t affect their quality of performances.
Well, rather it didn’t till recently.
Still, even remembering the past series India played in the West Indies, reading about, and watching footages of a few which were played even before I was born, have always been a source of joy to me!The West Indian team, started into the international arena in 1928, and even then, were good enough to challenge the best. The all-round capabilities of (later Baron) Leary Constantine, the fiery pace of Manny Martindale, Herman Griffith and George Francis was backed by no batting prowess, but that changed swiftly after the advent of George Headley, the ‘Black Bradman’, as he was called. Inducted in the West Indian side in 1930 series against England, he quickly stamped his authority by taking 21 and 176 in the match, of the attack consisting of Bill Voce, Wilfred Rhodes, and Nigel Haig. For many years, he carried the torch of West Indian batsmanship alone, until the Bajans Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott got into the team. Then on, the West Indies had a batting unit as formidable as any in the world, for the next six decades.
The earliest Indian tour of West Indies I have read about was their first one, in 1951-52. In their earlier visit to India, the Caribbeans had plundered the Indian bowling for 11 centuries, (four of which in consecutive innings, by Sir Everton Weekes, and add a 90 run out in the fifth innings) and the Indians were expected to go down meekly when playing the West Indians on their home turf. But this was not the case, and the Indian team put up a very good resistance. True, that the Windies had only one genuine quick bowler in Frank King, but they had the most dreaded spin duo of the time, Alf Valentine and Sony Ramadhin. Indian team then found a few batting heroes, who in the coming years went on to become the backbone of Indian batting. Polly Umrigar, Madhav Apte, Vijay Manjrekar, Pankaj Roy, Vinoo Mankad, all were amongst runs, and they did put up a decent fight against the mighty batting of the West Indians, namely the 3Ws (Weekes, Walcott and Worrell). Everton Weekes got 207 in the first Test, and followed that up with scores of 47, 15, 161, 55 not out, 86, 109 and 36. Weekes did not spare Indians in the colony game against Barbados: he got 253. Walcott got 98 in the second Test, 125 in the fourth and 118 in the final Test. Worrell was grace personified, he would bat superbly for 30 or 40 runs and invariably got out to a marvelous catch. The Indians used to tease Worrell: “The other two Ws are murdering us, why don’t you get some runs?”
He would reply: “Don’t worry, it will come soon.” And it did, in the final Test, where he got 237.
It was a good tour for India, who were considered to be minnows in International cricket, where they could secure four honorable draws, and lost only in the second test in Bridgetown, Barbados, where they were running neck to neck with the hosts for victory, and in the end were done in by a magical spell of bowling by Sony Ramadhin, who took five for 26. The Indian bowlers performed well on the tour too, with Subhash Gupte taking 28 wickets, Mankad 15, Phadkar 9.
The most inexplicable event after the tour was the disappearance of Madhav Apte from International Cricket. He opened the batting in all five Tests, and had scores of 64, 52, 64, 9, 0, 163 not out, 30, 30, 15 and 33. With a tally of 460 runs (average 51.11) he finished second to Polly Umrigar in the Test figures and ahead of Hazare, Mankad, Roy and Manjrekar. His century was a marathon innings that helped India to draw the match after they were in danger of defeat. And after the tour, Apte was gone. He had been dropped like a hot potato.
It was during a tour match here, against Barbados, the Indians got a glimpse of a 17 year old all-rounder, Garfield St. Auburn Sobers. He was to continue entertaining the world for two decades after that. It was also a tour where Subhash Gupte found the love of his life, when he met Carol in Trinidad. He married her and made Trinidad his home.
The 1960-61 tour was a bad one. India did actually have a very balanced team, with batsmen like Umrigar, Jaisimha, Durrani, Rusi Surti, Chandu Borde, Vijay Manjrekar, Tiger Pataudi, Dilip Sardesai and Captain Nari Contractor in the team. The bowling Unit contained Ramakant Desai, Surti, Durrani, Bapu Nadkarni, and Vasant Ranjane. A very balanced team, and a strong one too. Alas, it was so just on paper.
The score cards of the matches in the West Indies were a correct reflection of the players’ form on the tour, but certainly not an accurate index of the strength of the side when it left India.
All the batsmen, barring Umrigar, and occasionally Durrani failed, and the bowlers were lackluster too. To be fair to the touring Indians, they did not come to the West Indies in the best of conditions.
Circumstances, to an extent, militated against the touring side touching peak form in the West Indies. The heavy domestic season, which had started in August instead of in November, had taxed their energy, determination and concentration beyond measure, and it was folly on the Board’s part to hustle them into a tour in so short a time after the end of the home season.
The Indians took the field under a hot Trinidad sun within twelve hours of arrival from wintry London and New York. A crop of pulled muscles and stomach disorders was inevitable, and throughout the tour the players’ nostrils were filled with the odours of drugs and liniments.
A nasty accident to Contractor, the captain and opening batsman, half-way through the tour, had the team in a state of shock, anxiety and extreme unhappiness. What most of the outside world heard about the incident was that Contractor was struck through ducking to a ball delivered by Charles Griffith, which never rose beyond the height of the stumps.
Contractor did not duck into the ball. He got behind it to play at it — he probably wanted to fend it away towards short-leg — but could not judge the height to which it would fly, bent back from the waist in a desperate, split-second attempt to avoid it and was hit just above the right ear. A few hours later, in his second over of the second innings of this match in Barbados, Griffith, a fast bowler, was no-balled for throwing by the square-leg umpire Cortez Jordan.
Indian batting side in the West Indies looked one of the finest ever, especially after a successful series against Ted Dexter’s English side. No longer did the Indian batsmen show that hysterical uneasiness against pace, and one felt that if Wes Hall was played with, determination and good sense, India should have always been able to put up sizable scores. This was not the case.
India also sadly missed Subash Gupte, and never more than in the last two Tests, when West Indies had to bat a second time. In spite of Gupte’s absence, the spin bowling was of the highest class, though it sorely lacked variety. Often, when runs were being scored too fast, Nadkarni and Durani had to bowl opposite each other, and the versatile Surti delivered orthodox spinners as often as he bowled with an upright seam. When free from fibrositis of the back, Umrigar bowled his off breaks with admirable steadiness, valor and hostility.
Durani was the foremost wicket-taker, and Borde performed creditably till Pataudi took over the captaincy. Having learnt and played most of his cricket in England, Pataudi seemed inexperienced in the handling of spinners, a chink in the armour which the Prince removed very shortly.
The saving grace of the Indian’s performance on this tour was their ground fielding, which was as good as that of any contemporary Test side. Surti was outstanding. If the catching had touched even half these heights, the Indians would have saved themselves a lot of humiliation. Isn’t that a very surprising statement to make when one is speaking of the Indian Cricket teams of the past? To look at the other side of the coin, there were few chinks in the West Indies’ armour, and these were not fully exposed because of the limitation of the opposition.
One of their most glaring weaknesses was at the top of the batting order, with Hunte experiencing probably the leanest series of his career.
Lance Gibbs emerged as a world class spinner in this series. So masterly was his variation of flight that he appeared capable of succeeding on the truest pitches. Sobers again proved his versatility with the ball. As a purveyor of the Chinaman and the left-hander’s googly, he looked a vastly improved bowler than when he toured India in 1958-59. And he was to improve to such an extent, that he ruled the cricketing world as the most complete cricketer that ever was, for the next 14 years.
The next trip to the West Indies by the Indians, was to prove a milestone for Indian cricket, though.
1970-71 to be covered in the next part..
Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.