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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 14

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is Street-smart. He always has been. As a young boy, he never was in awe of any cricketer. He had no idol. He never watched cricket on TV. He never was very passionate about cricket till his mid-teens. Cricket along with basketball, badminton and football was just another sport for him. He played all the sports which came his way and was the goalie of his school football team. His sports teacher asked him to keep wickets in the cricket team. Seeing the popularity of cricket in the country, Dhoni agreed to. At the time, being good at a sport was the only means for him to get into a decent university. Excelling in sports was much easier than burning midnight oil for studies. Yet, there was a hitch. Being a son of a pump operator meant he would have to support his cricket on his own. Cricket is an expensive sport.

M S Dhoni
Captain Cool- MSD

He did a lot of things for that. Blessed with the strength of a bull and speed of a gazelle, he knew that he had the basic attributes to excel in the sport. And he also had immense stamina. He took to playing tennis ball matches and taking money for it. Took up a job of a ticket collector. But kept playing. An entry to a university never happened, but he entered seamlessly in the most glamourous field in the country. Suddenly, in fray for a place in the Indian Cricket team. That too didn’t happen without drama. The Bihar Cricket association didn’t deem it appropriate to intimate a player from Jharkhand that he has been selected to represent the East Zone in the Duleep trophy. A congratulatory call from a friend of a friend was the means by which Dhoni came to know he has been selected. Yet it was too late, and despite desperate efforts by his friends, Dhoni missed the flight to Agartala.

However, Dhoni went to the next match in Pune as the 12th man. He kept performing enough to remain in the fray for the next 3 years, but the national call up won’t come. Things changed in 2004, India A, ODI and Test match debuts happened in a year’s time, and the small-town boy had made it big. Dhoni quickly became a brand second only to Sachin Tendulkar. Within three years, Dhoni was leading the Indian Cricket team in all the three formats.Much has been written and cinematographed about his story thereafter, and there’s no point in repeating the same here.

The Indian team which went to England in 2011 under Dhoni was on a high, having won the 2011 world cup. They felt invincible but were brutally brought to the ground by the English Cricket team. Just like the West Indies had slaughtered the Indian Cricket team with vengeance after winning the 1983 world cup.

The first test was the test match # 2000, and Dhoni, winning the toss, put England in. Bad move to start with. Initial success came as Cook fell for 12 when England had made 19, and Strauss for 22 when the score was 62. Then the South African imports, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pieterson got together and added 98 between them before Trott fell for 70 workmanlike runs. His name is Trott, but he made his runs in a saunter always. Bell (45) added another 110 runs with the in-form KP. Thereafter, another import, this one from Ireland (Eoin Morgan) lasted only 3 balls and didn’t bother the scorers, and with England score 270/5, India could hope to make a comeback in the match. But wicketkeeper Matt Prior and Pieterson added 120 brisk runs and snatched the game away from India. England declared at 474/8 and KP was unbeaten on 200.

Zaheer Khan picked 5 for a 106, but just when he was bowling well, got injured and was ruled out of the remaining tour. The Indian openers, Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir put on 63, but both were back in the hut by the time the score had reached 77, and it fell on the senior pros Dravid and Tendulkar to salvage the situation. They added 81, but that was not enough. Thereafter, it was a mere procession to the pavilion with only the captain and the ex-captain showing any resistance. Dravid finally got himself on the Lord’s honours board with an unbeaten 103 and Dhoni made a patient 28 off 102 balls, and added 57 with Dravid, but as India were wrapped up for 286, even saving the match was going to require a gargantuan effort. Yet the bowlers hadn’t lost heart. They made the new ball talk, and reduced England to 62 for 5, and then 107 for 6. But the first innings villain Prior was not done with tormenting the Indians. He scored an unbeaten 103, and along with Stuart Broad, (74 off 90 balls) added 162 and put India completely out of the game.

Indian second innings was a sad story. All their batsmen got starts, but only Laxman (56) and Raina (78) could convert. India all out 261, but they played 96 overs for that. Anderson (5/65) and Broad (3/57) destroyed the Indian innings, and led England to a handsome 196 run victory, to draw the first blood in the series.

In the second test, Dhoni again won the toss and put England in. Yuvraj Singh had come in for Gambhir. But this time around, the bowlers proved him right. Ishant Sharma, Pravin Kumar, and Shantakumaran Shreesanth all claimed 3 wickets apiece and bundled England out for 221. Stuart Broad (64) top scored for England. India opened with Dravid and Mukund, and Mukund was out without scoring. Dravid and Laxman then added 93 stoic runs and Laxman fell making 54. Tendulkar failed so did Raina and Yuvraj combined with Dravid to add 128. Yuvraj made 62 and after he fell, the remaining 5 Indian wickets could add only 21 runs. Dravid was out 9th, making 117, his second century of the series. Broad claimed a six- for and India secured a lead of 57 runs. In the England second innings, Ishant Sharma removed Cook cheaply, and then came Ian Bell. He held the England Innings together with a masterly 159.

Dhoni recalled Ian Bell to bat again when the latter was given wrongly run out. It won Dhoni the spirit of cricket award for the year 2011, but lost India the match. Prior, Pieterson, Prior and Bresnan all responded with big half centuries and England put up a mighty 544 and set India an improbable 478 to win. Bresnan and Anderson scythed through the Indian batting and reduced India quickly to 55 for 6. Sachin Tendulkar (56) and Harbhajan Singh took India past 100, then the little master fell, and Praveen Kumar threw his bat around for a run-a-ball 25. But 478 was too imposing a target and India folded up for 158, losing by 319 runs.

India were down and out, trailing 0-2 in the series and in the Birmingham test, they were ground to dust. Batting first, India scored 224, Gambhir and Laxman made 30s and the captain made a fighting 77. England put on an epic 710/7, Cook making a career best 294 , Morgan made 104 and Strauss, Pieterson and Bresnan made fifties. In the second essay, India made 244, the captain made another fine 74, and Tendulkar and Praveen Kumar made 40s. India lost by a small matter of an innings and 242 runs.

A thoroughly demoralised India went to the Oval to play the final test England won the toss, made 591/6 and put India out of contention right from the day 1 of the match. Ian bell made a silky 235 and Kevin Pieterson hammered 175. In reply, India reached 300 for the first time in the series, the “Wall” standing tall for a stoic 146 and carrying his bat through the innings. All the batsmen did come to the wicket, but they might as well have not, as their stays were short, and contributed precious little. Dravid found an unlikely ally in the rotund Amit Mishra who scored 44 and added 87 for the 7th wicket.

The injured Gambhir walked in to bat, hung around grimly for an hour and added 40 for the 8th wicket with Dravid. RP Singh threw his bat around for 25, and India made an even 300. Following on 291 runs in arrears, India made 283 in the second innings, Sachin Tendulkar (91) and Amit Mishra (84) being the only innings worth a mention. Another innings defeat, and a 0-4 whitewash. India were never in the game for the whole series, and barring Rahul Dravid and Dhoni, none of their batsmen showed the grit to graft in tough situations. The bowling was lackluster and so was the fielding. No wonder the result came out as it did.

Yet three years later, Dhoni was again at the helm when India toured England. And he was there on Merit. India was the number one test side in the world, it’s young batting line-up was formidable on the paper at least, and the bowling attack too was of a high quality. BUT THERE WAS A HUGE DIFFERENCE THIS TIME AROUND. None of the fab 4 were in the team, and the team had a point to prove, that despite losing 4 great batsmen to time, they yet were a formidable unit.

In the first test at Nottingham, Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat first. India made a formidable 457. Murali Vijay made 146 gorgeous runs, Dhoni made 82, but the highlight of the innings was the 107 run 10th wicket partnership between Bhubaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. Both scored individual 50s. England replied with 496. Their rising star Joe Root made an unbeaten 154 and added a mighty 198 runs with James Anderson for the last wicket. Anderson made 81. Garry Ballance and Sam Robson made fifties. It was a peculiar case where the 10th wicket partnerships had crossed the 100-run mark in two successive innings of a test match. India batted again making 391/8 declared, debutante Stuart Binny made 78, Vijay and Pujara made 50s and Bhubaneshwar Kumar made his second fifty of the match, scoring 63. The five days were over and the match ended in a draw. But both the teams looked even Stevens in their form, promising a closely fought series ahead.

The second test was at the Lord’s. Captain Cook called correctly, and put India in. India made 295, riding on rookie Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 103. Anderson took 4/60. England replied with 319. Garry Ballance made 110 and Liam Plunkett 55. Bhubaneshwar Kumar took 6 wickets for 82 runs. India in their second innings, made 342, Murali Vijay making 95, Sir Jadeja made 68 and Bhubaneshwar Kumar, carrying his batting form from Nottingham to Lords, made another 52. England were set 319 to win, but the lanky Ishant Sharma went through their batting line up like a hot knife in butter, and bowled a man-of-the-match winning spell of 7 for 74. Only Joe Root (66) and Moeen Ali (39) showed some fight and England folded up for 223. India had won at Lord’s after 18 years, and gone one-up in the series.

Stung by the defeat at Lord’s, England came back strongly in Southampton, piling up 569/7 in their first innings. Cook made 95, Butler 85, and Ballance and Bell scored big hundreds. The hero of Lord’s, Ishant Sharma was out of the team due to injury and the rest of the bowlers looked hapless. India scored 330 in reply. All their batsmen got starts, but only Rahane and Dhoni could make 50s. England didn’t enforce the follow-on and scored a brisk 205/4 in their second innings. Cook and Root made 50s. Ravindra Jadeja took 3 for 52. Set 445 to win, India made only 178. Rahane made his second 50 of the match, but that wasn’t enough. Of all the people, Moeen Ali, who bowls innocuous looking off spin took6 for 67. India has this knack of making heroes out of unlikely players. England levelled the series with two more tests to go.

The fourth test found India hitting a new low, getting bundled out for 152 and 161 in their two innings. England made 367 in their only innings of the match, riding on fifties from Bell, Root and Butler. The only scores worth mention from the Indians were a vigilant 71 by the captain in the first innings and a brace of fighting 40s by Ravichandran Ashwin in each innings. But that was not enough. India lost by and 54 runs as the match ended in 3 days’ time.

In the final test at the Oval India stooped further, making only 148 in their first innings, the captain again making a valiant 82 and after being reduced to 9 for 90, adding 58 valuable runs with Ishant Sharma who hung on grimly for an hour and a quarter. In reply, England made 486, Cook, Balance made fifties, Butler made 45 and Joe Root a fine, chance less unbeaten 149. In their second essay, India capitulated for 94, thus ending the disappointing series, the only bright spot being the win at Lord’s. After this series probably, it was total loss of motivation for Dhoni to Continue leading and Playing for India in the test matches, and he suddenly announced his retirement from the format in the following Australian tour.

Yet, Indian Cricket will never forget MS Dhoni’s contribution. He was the coolest head in the team, always unperturbed, through the Best and worst. And his journey is one of the most amazing tale of self-belief and perseverance.

Starting as a small-town basher, the guy went on to become one of the most successful Indian Cricket Captain. He placed India at the top in all the three formats of the game, winning the T20 and ODI world cups, and also getting India ranked at Numero Uno in the ICC Test Rankings. A goodish wicketkeeper (wouldn’t call him one of the best), a very aggressive batsman, when he got in, and a very astute, and attacking leader, for most of his career (He appeared a bit lackluster due to loss of motivation probably, towards the fag end of his Test Captaincy career).

As a captain, we would rate Dhoni as inspiration. He never appeared to be agitated, irritated, or never did his shoulders sag in adversity. Dropped catches, bad batting displays, typically Indian bowling woes overseas, nothing could ruffle his feathers anytime when on the field. He looked like a tower of peace, notwithstanding what was going on around him. That doesn’t mean that he was off guard or unaware of his job. He did it well, most of the time. He gambled quite a lot, and also had the guts to back himself in tough situations. More often than not, he was also able to inspire his players to rise to the occasion. It is not so easy to captain a team which has a Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, and Kumble in it, but MSD did this with consummate ease, and to a very good effect. He didn’t like criticisms. He kept backing players like Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, though they were not always consistent performers, and could extract flashes of brilliance from them, nurtured Virat Kohli’s potential, and also the senior players were not far behind in contributing.

People who go by stats, forget that by changing or sacking or blaming a captain, they are doing no good to the game or to the team more so in case of Dhoni.

Despite all these achievements, his leadership in England Tests was not rewarded with results, and though he came out as a fighting batsman on both the tours, he found no support. And this was again to be repeated in the 2018 England tour, under a different captain, who came out as the best batsman of the Series for India, yet couldn’t secure a series win for them…

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DANCING TO THE CALYPSO TUNE .. PART 3

…continued from Part 2.

Calypso
Calypso

1982-83 :
For a combination of reasons, India’s fifth Test series in the West Indies fell disappointingly short of the hard-fought drama of the previous two, in 1971 and 1976. Rain, which affected every Test in varying degrees, made the third meaningless. West Indies won two of the other four and had the better of the two drawn matches. At no stage of any match were India in a position to win, although the West Indian bowling often lacked the penetration which has become its hallmark.
India arrived direct from a trying series in Pakistan, in which they had been badly beaten. The consequence of their defeat was the replacement of their long-standing captain, Sunil Gavaskar, by the dynamic all-rounder, Kapil Dev, besides a number of other critical team changes, notably the exclusion of Gundappa Viswanath, after 89 Tests, and the left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi. Though, Jimmy Amarnath continued his fairytale comeback in this series with 2 centuries and 4 fifties, and extended it to the 1983 world Cup !
The new combination was ineffective. West Indies won the first Test, following a thrilling final session in which India lost their last four wickets for 6 runs and West Indies then reached the 172 runs they needed in the last over of the match. India’s spirits were revived by a courageous second-innings battle which saved the second Test, an unexpected victory in the second of the three one-day internationals and a return to form of Gavaskar, who compiled his 27th Test century in the truncated third Test. Lord Realtor’s calypso was played for the last time on West Indian Grounds then. Gavaskar, though attributes the credit of this knock to Yashpal Sharma’s “tutorship”.
Gavaskar’s performance, however, was only a temporary reminder of what he had achieved on his two previous tours, and the series was decided with a massive West Indies victory in the fourth Test in Bridgetown where conditions were ideally suited to the West Indian fast bowlers. The Indian captain and manager complained after that Test of intimidatory bowling, a charge which did have some merit although the umpires had not felt obliged to intervene. The umpires’ attitude may have been conditioned by the magnificence of Mohinder Amarnath, who, far from being intimidated, hooked and cut with certainty.
The fine form Amarnath showed there continued with centuries at Port-of-Spain and Antigua, two vital innings of 91 and 80 when all others around him were falling in Bridgetown and a final aggregate of 598 Test runs (average 66.44). During his innings of 90, his teeth were knocked by a Malcom Marshall bouncer, and he had hooked the next ball from Marshall out of the ground for a six! Such courage! His choice as Benson and Hedges Man of the Series was obligatory. No other Indian passed 300 for the series, Gavaskar being the major disappointment with no score above 40 except for his Georgetown century. Six times in his nine Test innings he was caught behind the wicket, although he was not alone in this, the West Indian wicket-keeper and slips being kept busy throughout.
India’s bowling was limited. While Kapil Dev was never less than the quality fast-medium bowler he was known to be, in West Indian conditions the medium-paced swing of Balwinder Sandhu and Madan Lal was inadequate support once the ball had lost its shine. Venkataraghavan, then 38, experienced, bowled steadily on his third West Indian tour, as did the two orthodox left-arm spinners, Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh. Shastri developed as a batsman, scoring a century in the final Test. He went on to be a stoic opener for India for a decade thereafter.
India’s wicket-keeper, Syed Kirmani, dropped catches at critical stages in the second and fifth Tests, helping West Indies to total 394, 470, 486 and 550 in successive innings. One more great, on a downslide!
The first seven in the West Indian order all scored centuries in the series. None better than Gordon Greenidge, whose daughter was in the hospital, in coma, while he scored 154 not out. One of these was the only new batsman introduced by West Indies in the series, Augustine Logie, a stroke-playing right-hander from Trinidad. He managed only 37 in his five other innings.
With the exception of Lloyd and the fluent wicket-keeper-batsman, Jeffrey Dujon, no West Indian batsman was at his best throughout the series. Nor were two of the leading bowlers, Michael Holding and Joel Garner, both of whom were obviously feeling the effects of demanding seasons in Australia, where Holding, still not recovered from the effects of a knee operation the previous year, played for Tasmania and Garner for South Australia. Holding only occasionally reached his fastest, while the giant Garner, who complained of fatigue, eventually lost his Test place. It was left to Marshall, generating tremendous pace and hostility mainly from round the wicket, to spearhead the West Indian attack. He was on his ascent to become the greatest Right arm fast bowler the sport has ever seen. The 32-year-old Andy Roberts, with clever change of pace, made an ideal foil. As India batted comfortably to draws in the second and fifth Tests on slow pitches, the West Indian policy of concentrating purely on fast bowling to the exclusion of specialist spin was again brought into question.

1989 :
Even without playing to their full potential, West Indies were vastly superior to India in both the Test matches and the one-day internationals in this tour. They won the Test series of four matches 3-0 and made a clean sweep of the overs-limit rubber of five. From the Indian viewpoint, the tour was one of the most disastrous they have undertaken. Even outside the Tests, they were sometimes embarrassed and failed to win any match at any level.
The opening Test in Guyana was washed out after only two days’ play. Guyana Washouts were becoming customary in Indian tours to West Indies. As it stood at its premature end, however, it seemed certain to be drawn, for the Bourda pitch was extremely slow. The remaining Tests were won by West Indies by the overwhelming margins of eight wickets, 217 runs and seven wickets. The curious feature was that India, whose bowling was, overall, below accepted Test standards and whose fielding was deplorable, dismissed West Indies in the first innings of every Test – though never for less than 300.
West Indies’ shortcomings, such as they were, could be largely attributed to feeling jaded after major tours of England and Australia which took place in close succession. And no sooner were their players back from Australia than some went straight into the domestic season. There was talk before the start of the series that the West Indians might want for motivation, but once the international matches were under way, it never looked as if their commitment was anything but whole-hearted.
The strain of past campaigns told most on Viv Richards, the captain. It was not until his last innings in the series that he made his only century. In the previous four innings, his scores were 5, 1, 19 and 0. Gordon Greenidge played innings during which he looked as destructive as ever, but his consistency fell below his own standard. The rich vein of form that Desmond Haynes struck in Australia remained with him and was evident both in the one-day internationals and the Tests. However, the mainstay of West Indies’ batting was Richie Richardson who, after a lean season in England, had touched high peaks in Australia. Not only was he hard to dislodge, on his home pitches, but he played the spinners with more authority than in his previous encounters with India. Richardson scored 619 runs in seven Test innings, including 194 in the First Test and 156 in the last, besides other 50-plus scores of 93, 59 and 99. If less consistent, Gus Logie always batted impressively, particularly when West Indies were in need of a steadying hand.
Of the bowlers, only Curtly Ambrose, tired and ill for a time, did not measure up to expectations. Malcolm Marshall, despite missing the First Test, was the main wicket-taker with nineteen dismissals, eleven of them in the Third Test, in Trinidad, on what was really a spinners’ pitch. The top Indian wicket takers were Krish Srikkanth and Kapil Dev, with three wickets apiece, and that tells the sorry tale of Indian Bowling. Surprisingly, the top West Indian Wicket taker was Vivian Richards. 
Courtney Walsh bowled tirelessly and always seemed to have a deadly quicker ball in reserve. He was only one wicket behind Marshall. Ian Bishop, a newcomer, took sixteen wickets and played a part which could not be measured in statistical terms alone Bishop touched high levels of pace and also moved the ball menacingly. Not only was he remarkably accurate for a bowler so inexperienced, but also he was tactically resourceful. His mastery over Dilip Vengsarkar, whom he constantly had groping in the region of his off stump, was a crucial factor in the balance of power, West Indies’ fielding betrayed no signs of the tiredness of mind and body that was claimed on their behalf.
For the first time since his retirement, India truly felt the absence of Sunil Gavaskar. They were immensely unlucky with the weather on the early part of the tour, and they also suffered harshly from injuries. The intervention of rain on the third day of the First Test was the start of a wet spell which affected the whole Caribbean region and permitted just over a full day’s cricket before the Second Test. Already, prior to the start of the series, India had lost the services of Krishnam Srikkanth, valuable for his experience as well as for his ability to carry the attack to the bowling. His tour ended in the last one-day international when his forearm was fractured by a ball from Bishop. Srikkanth had shown signs of good form from the first match of the tour. From the Second Test onwards, there was a continuing deterioration of a long-standing groin injury carried by Mohammad Azharuddin. That the problem became so acute as to reach crisis proportions was as much the fault of the player himself as of the Indian Board for allowing the injury to remain untreated for over a year. The other experienced batsman in the side, Vengsarkar, was completely undermined by Bishop and, unquestionably, was weighed down by the demands of captaining an inadequate side.
Although Navjot Singh Sidhu recorded the highest score by an Indian on tour, 286 against Jamaica, and followed it up with a brave century in the final Test, the outstanding Indian batsman of the tour was Sanjay Manjrekar, who scored a maiden Test century in the Bridgetown Test. Reported to be the last man selected for the tour party, Manjrekar had earned his Test place by scoring 109 against the Under-23s in his first innings of the tour. He headed the aggregates and the averages for the series, but more than that he caught the eye with his judgement of direction and his technique of playing fast bowling. Sidhu’s success was achieved more by keenness of eye than mastery of technique, the most obvious imperfection being an initial backward movement of the right foot. The only other century scored for India in the series was a fighting 107 by Ravi Shastri in the second innings of the Second Test, at Bridgetown.
The outstanding Indian bowler was Kapil Dev. His tally of eighteen wickets in the series, at a very respectable average of 21.38, did less than full justice to the skills he showed in conditions not best suited to his pace. Chetan Sharma, his new-ball partner, was brave at heart and took useful wickets, but too often he bowled a bad ball. The two seam bowlers in reserve, Sanjeev Sharma and Robin Singh, who played in matches outside the Tests, were out of their depth.
The most disappointing aspect of the series was India’s inability to take advantage of a turning pitch in the Third Test, at Port-of-Spain. Their failure and their rout underlined the decline of the art of spin bowling in a country where it abounded only a few years earlier, thankfully it was revived in a decade’s time. Of the three Indian spinners, Arshad Ayub, the off-spinner, was the most successful. But his chief merit was steadiness. Shastri’s left-arm spin earned moderate rewards, and the leg-spinner, Narendra Hirwani, failed by a long way to live up to the reputation gained from taking sixteen West Indian wickets in his maiden Test and twenty in the only other three he had played since. As expensive as he was lacking in penetration, Hirwani was near to being dropped for the Third Test and, because of an injury, did not figure in the last. Apart from his own limitations, he suffered from lack of guidance from his captain and from his setting of fields, for which ridiculous can be the only fitting description.
The low standard of fielding, mentioned, included the wicket-keeping of Kiran More. As captain, Vengsarkar could not inspire his team either by personal performance or by force of personality. Yet at the end he publicly denounced his side as lacking courage and sense of purpose. In truth, the team’s performance reflected a marked lack of class in its components. Nor did the touring side gain any credit for its conduct. Kapil Dev and Chetan Sharma staged the most unseemly displays of dissent, and the umpires were cynically under pressure.
In this respect, the West Indians were culpable also, and Richards’s reaction to an errant decision, although not directed at the umpire, sparked off a riot in the Fourth Test, at Kingston. The umpires indeed made mistakes, but a big enough proportion was in India’s favour to absolve them of any charges of bias.
1997 :
Both teams had just lost their preceding series – West Indies in Australia, India in South Africa – so both had plenty to play for on India’s first tour of the Caribbean for eight years. In the event, they were thoroughly frustrated by the weather.
A potentially gripping finish to the First Test was spoiled by rain on the last day and the final two Tests were so reduced that not even two innings could be completed. The first two of the four one-day internationals were disrupted and had to be decided by the unsatisfactory arrangement of revised targets.
The quality of the cricket was also diminished by slow, featureless pitches in the first two drawn Tests, prompting pleas from both captains for something livelier. They got more than they bargained for at Kensington Oval in Barbados. The hard, well-grassed surface unduly favoured the fast bowlers, who took all but two of the 40 wickets, and produced an astonishing climax. India capitulated for 81 on the fourth day when they needed just 120 for their first victory in the Caribbean for 21 years. West Indies’ win was the only outright result of the series.
The exalted batsmen on both sides were seldom seen at their best. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara had their moments, notably Tendulkar’s dominant 92 in the first innings in Barbados, Lara’s second-innings 78 off 83 balls in Jamaica and his more measured 103 in Antigua. More was expected of the world’s two greatest batting stars. The unofficial contest within a contest, to determine the better player, was unresolved. But Lara earned more points for his handling of the team in Barbados, to win his first Test as captain when Courtney Walsh was injured.
Carl Hooper faded badly after a typically elegant 129 in the First Test and Mohammad Azharuddin, who had made three magnificent hundreds in the preceding home and away series against South Africa, was so pathetically out of sorts that his best score in eight innings in Tests and one-day internationals was 40. He was dropped on his return home.
Only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the 22-year-old West Indies left-hander, and Rahul Dravid, the solid young Indian, prevailed over the conditions to enhance their reputations. Chanderpaul, retained at the No. 3 position to which he was promoted above Lara in Australia, finally gathered the Test and one-day hundreds that had so long eluded him, maintaining his consistency while adding power and range to his strokeplay. He was unchallenged as Man of the Series, an award covering both forms of the game. Dravid, his opposite number at No. 3, was similarly reliable, if comparatively slow, and confirmed the favourable impression he had made since his debut in England the previous summer.
Even though West Indies secured both series, the Tests 1-0 and the internationals 3-1, the teams were well matched. West Indies enjoyed the better of the First Test and India the better of the Second but neither had the resources – nor, in India’s case, the confidence – to press home their advantage on pitches so sluggish they inhibited both batsmen and bowlers. The exciting scrap in Barbados provided a welcome spark but it was then extinguished by the uncooperative elements in Antigua and Guyana.
Both West Indies and India started with long-standing problems and finished with most unsolved. India were made to suffer for their heavy reliance on the penetrative fast bowling of Javagal Srinath when a recurring shoulder injury ruled him out of the game for at least six months after the first practice session of the tour. Their difficulties at the top of the order led to the revival of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s chequered career, the need for his experience over-riding memories of his tetchy withdrawal from the England tour less than a year earlier and his subsequent ban. Sidhu’s marathon 201 in the Second Test was a typically determined, single-minded effort. But whether, aged 33, he was the long-term remedy was open to question.
West Indies were no closer to finding a reliable opening pair either, and continued to play musical chairs with their wicket-keepers. The most encouraging development for each team was the emergence of a promising new fast bowler, Franklyn Rose for West Indies and Abey Kuruvilla for India. Rose, an athletic Jamaican well over six feet, had become so disenchanted with the game that he dropped out entirely the previous season. But his form in the Red Stripe Cup and injuries to other contenders gained him a Test debut. He was consistently West Indies’ most penetrative bowler. With Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in the twilight of their careers, his arrival was timely. Mervyn Dillon, another tall, sinewy fast bowler in his first first-class season, showed distinct promise in his two Tests, but it was disappointing that, once again, West Indies could find no room for one of their clutch of young leg-spinners.
Kuruvilla, on his first tour, was said to be India’s tallest-ever fast bowler at six feet six inches. He used his height, plus his control and variations of pace, learned under the early tutelage of Frank Tyson, to advantage. His consistency helped to compensate for Srinath’s absence and the fatigue that took its toll on the worthy Venkatesh Prasad. But the role of stock bowler fell to the overworked leg-spinner Anil Kumble, who sent down more overs and took more wickets than anyone one either side.
At the end, the indelible images were less of dashing batting or incisive bowling than of ground staff trying to dry swampy outfields by the antiquated method of sponges and buckets.
2001-02
India had great, and realistic, expectations that their eighth tour of the Caribbean would allow them to break their wretched overseas record; they had not won a Test series outside the subcontinent since 1986 in England. They possessed a well-balanced team: Sachin Tendulkar remained the premier batsman of the day, supported by Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Shiv Sunder Das, all with Test averages above 40, and the exciting, if unpredictable, V. V. S. Laxman. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were two contrasting spinners maintaining a rich Indian tradition; Javagal Srinath was the second most successful fast bowler in their history.
In contrast, West Indies were going through difficult times. They had just been whitewashed in three Tests by Sri Lanka and two by Pakistan. Their main batsman, Brian Lara, had not played any cricket since fracturing his elbow in Sri Lanka four months earlier. Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were no longer around to harass batsmen with their probing accuracy, and their replacements were mostly raw and untried.
When India took the lead with a hard-fought victory in the Second Test, at Port-of-Spain – the scene of their only two previous wins in the Caribbean – it seemed their optimism was not misplaced. But it did not take into account either their own antipathy towards the faster, bouncier pitches they would encounter in Barbados and Jamaica, or West Indies’ lingering resilience at home.
After their defeat, the West Indians quickly regained the psychological edge when their limited attack bowled India out for 102 on the first day at Kensington Oval, in Barbados, and Ganguly could not retrieve it. West Indies levelled the series, winning by ten wickets within four days, their seventh victory in eight Tests between the teams on the ground. They outscored India in a high-scoring draw in Antigua and confirmed their superiority by clinching the series in Jamaica.
The most surprising and disappointing aspect of the series was that Tendulkar and Lara were both below their best. Tendulkar’s 117 in the Second Test was more grafting than domineering; his 79 in the First and 86 in the last were more authentic. In between, he had three ducks (fourth, second and first balls) and an eight. Lara, hindered by immobility in his elbow, never gave a glimpse of the breathtaking form he had displayed in Sri Lanka.
Although almost every West Indian made a contribution, there were three stars. The captain, Carl Hooper, made 579 runs in the series, the first time he had passed 400 in a 14-year career; finally, he showed the hunger he had always been accused of lacking. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was just as prolific and even more single-minded: between Port-of-Spain and Kingston, he batted for 25 hours 13 minutes without being dismissed, a Test record. Merv Dillon recovered from an indifferent start to take 23 wickets and trouble the Indians with his aggression. Among the supporting cast, Ramnaresh Sarwan continued to establish himself at No. 3, although he had a knack for getting himself out when well set. Wavell Hinds and the wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs both responded to their omissions from the early Tests with hundreds.
Dillon had support from Cameron Cuffy, whose 17 wickets cost only 22 runs each, while he conceded under two an over; the left-armer Pedro Collins, who dismissed Tendulkar in each of his three Tests; and a new medium-fast seamer, Adam Sanford. Born in Dominica but employed as a policeman in Antigua, Sanford was the first West Indies cricketer to be a direct descendant of the Caribs, the race which gave the region its name.
Although Laxman and Dravid aggregated over 400 and Ganguly and Tendulkar over 300 for India, there was virtually nothing above or below them in the batting line-up. Das and his three different opening partners managed one opening stand better than 19. The only hint of a wagging tail came in the run-glut in Antigua, where Ajay Ratra became the youngest wicket-keeper to score a Test hundred, aged 20 years 150 days.
The strain of bowling 212 overs, more than any of his team-mates, took its toll on Srinath. A spent force by the end of the series, he announced his retirement from Test cricket. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, two lively left-arm swing bowlers, showed definite promise and, with Srinath, took the critical wickets in the Port-of-Spain triumph. But they could not carry the attack on their own. Kumble and Harbhajan were not paired in any Test and, just as Kumble looked to be finding his best form, his tour ended; his jaw was broken while he was batting during the Fourth Test, though he emerged, head in bandages, to bowl 14 overs against doctor’s orders.
India did have the satisfaction of taking the subsequent one-day series 2-1, after the first two matches were lost to Jamaica’s unusually wet weather. But it was scant consolation for their continuing disappointments at Test level.
2005-6
Until the penultimate day, India’s tour of the West Indies bore an uncanny resemblance to the previous two: high on expectation but low on productivity. This time, though, they ended it differently, scrapping to a victory that removed several monkeys from Indian backs. It was their first series win in the Caribbean for 35 years, since Sunil Gavaskar’s triumphant maiden series, and also their first major triumph outside the subcontinent since they won in England in 1986.
And so India made history – but only just. Two weeks into the tour, after romping to 18 wins in their preceding 24 limited-overs matches, they had fallen to pieces in the one-dayers; halfway through the Test series, having dominated seven of the nine days’ play, they were stuck at 0-0; twelve days later they clung on for a draw; and with just a week to go before their return flight, they collapsed in the first innings of the decider. They won largely thanks to one man, their captain Rahul Dravid who, on a dodgy surface, produced two great innings.
Beginning at the opposite end of the expectation spectrum, West Indies took several steps forward. Their one-day success, winning a significant series for the first time in 20 months, promised much for the future, and their Test team added a cladding of steel. Several senior players assumed mantles of leadership, and some exciting prospects emerged as well. But West Indies slipped up at the crunch, losing the series in one reckless session of batting in Jamaica.
They weren’t helped by issues that were constantly dragging them back. The friction between the West Indian board and the players over contracts regularly surfaced, reaching breaking-point midway through the Test series. And there was a subsidiary farce: having griped about team composition throughout the series, Lara discovered, on the eve of the final Test, that he had actually been made a selector a month earlier – but he never got the letter, and evidently no one had mentioned it. Furthermore, the pitches hardly favoured West Indian strengths – Lara’s remark about the Sabina Park surface appearing to have been prepared for the Indians summed up his frustration.
Nobody was sure of the series result until the last ball was bowled, but the action was not always riveting. Flat pitches, and occasionally flatter bowling, led to a formulaic series, with one team piling up the runs and the other trying to stay alive. Vacant stands, especially in the new venues of St Lucia and St Kitts, added to the dreariness. The football World Cup, most of which coincided with the Test series, was always going to be a major diversion, especially given Trinidad & Tobago’s debut appearance. In keeping with the mood of the moment, the cricketers slugged out a hat-trick of draws, then had a shoot-out at Kingston – one that both sides nearly messed up.
The weather often dampened spirits, too. Lara, whose critical press conference statements were a direct contrast to Dravid’s diplomacy, observed after his side was thwarted by the late-June rain in St Kitts: “There is no international cricket in the West Indies in February and March when the sun is out. We lost an entire day in St Lucia, and I don’t know why we are playing at this time of the year. It’s unfortunate that it’s been happening for the last four or five years.”
But in the one-day series, West Indies were spurred on by a comment from India’s coach Greg Chappell, taken out of context by the media. After they made a hash of defending 251 in the opener in Jamaica, Chappell said: “West Indies have forgotten how to win.” Lara later termed this “a sly remark” and said it had galvanised his side to fight back.
Strangely, the Indians – without the injured Sachin Tendulkar – struggled to adapt to conditions that were more subcontinental than traditional Caribbean. On slow pitches, against bowlers with canny changes of pace, they stumbled. India’s batsmen, starting the one-dayers on the back of a record 16 successful run-chases, underestimated the bowling, aiming to dismantle it rather than show the respect it deserved. Their fielding dipped alarmingly while West Indies’ gradually looked up. The most important factor was probably Dwayne Bravo, so impressive that he was already being tipped as a future captain. He kept surprising India – with four different slower balls, effervescent fifties and electric athleticism.
While they could get away with restrictive tactics in the one-day games, West Indies’ bowlers struggled in the Tests. When the conditions were congenial, as in the first innings of the first and last Tests, they dismissed India for 241 and 200, but, in batsmen-friendly conditions in between, conceded a total of 1,769 for 28 wickets. While India’s spinners accounted for 43 of the 72 wickets, West Indies had no one to turn to for turn.
That India won only one Test was largely down to their inability to finish games off. Not for the first time, the close catchers let them down, while the batsmen came a cropper when confronted with the moving ball. However, conditions rarely perturb Dravid, who towered over the rest with 496 runs. He had made winning contributions in victories in every country apart from South Africa (where India did not win a Test until December 2006) and New Zealand (where they last won one in 1975-76). In terms of getting his side results, Rahul Dravid is, unarguably, India’s greatest-ever batsman.

Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.