It was Day 5 of the second test, with a very heavy heart and thousands of thoughts, I pushed myself to drive back home. The day went quiet as India lost the second test match and the series to the Proteas. I could feel how millions of Indian fans would be going through. Let down, dejected, angry and emotions flowing all over. I called Shams and to my anticipation, he too was feeling the same. In no mood to discuss cricket further, I didn’t have much courage left to ask him the obvious question, yet I gathered myself and asked, “When is 3rd test starting?” An awkward silence that was created for 30 seconds, broke with his firm reply – “From 24th January”.
I said “ok…Let me call back in sometime”. As I started driving and tune into FM (which is usual) there was this song playing ‘Stand by you’. I called up Shams again and said “Everyone is criticising the team for the poor show. Do you still believe in this team?” I knew the answer but somehow wanted to check. In came reply “Yes very much”. The background music ‘Stand by you’ suddenly sounded loud and clear. The self-belief started building once again. We may be certainly down, but not out. Don’t write us off. Fortune favours the brave. Fighting back strongly is one of the trait of this current team.
A ‘Green Top’ at the Wanderers is waiting for the Indian batsman who will be found wanting. It will be grit and determination with which the Indian batsman will have to play to shoo off the demons and the critics. We are very much sure that the team selection will be done on the basis of the requirement and not due to non- cricketing reasons.
Our bowlers are doing a commendable job and as MS Dhoni rightly said Test cricket is all about taking 20 wickets and batting for longer sessions. We are accurate on former, have to work on the later apart from not making silly mistakes. In both tests, we have witnessed that the basics of cricket were not followed. Dropping catches, run-outs and sloppy fielding are considered as crime. But that’s what test cricket about.
The batting and fielding department will have to make amends. The batsman will have to value their wickets, and will have to refrain from playing any false or loose shot, making the South African bowlers toil hard to earn their wicket.
Nothing to take away from the South Africans who scored on all aspects in both tests matches and will be really pumped up for a white wash.
Virat & Co – Lot has been written and spoken about the team’s loss and the way team has played. All we need is a strong fight back. Winning the third match is the only way to salvage the pride. This is not the end of the road. All teams have one through this and our team is no different. It’s just a learning curve and we will sail through.
Signing off by cheering loud -We stand by you!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
95 days gap between two consecutive tests, since the last test (March 5th in Cape Town) is the longest absence of Test Cricket that doesn’t involve an ODI World Cup since 1973…!
It has been a real long wait for the ones like me, who actually love to follow the TEST Cricket. In the frenzies of the T20 world cup and the IPL, it appeared that all the cricket lovers had just forgotten the existence of this vintage form of the game, and were lost in the blitzkrieg T20 format.
The game is all about asking for nothing, giving nothing away, and hanging in there till you break the opposition.
And that is why it has got its many qualities and names….
The great leveler, the game of uncertainties, Chess played on the field, the mind game, and what not.
And now, that brings me to the subject of this article.
When any cricket follower is asked to name the all-time great batsmen of cricket, the list will inevitably consist of the names of Trumper, Clem Hill, Wally Hammond, Sir Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Sir Len Hutton, Peter May, Tom Graveny, Sir Garry Sobers, the 3 Ws, Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, Ian & Greg Chappel, Doug Walters, Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Mark Waugh, Mohammed Azharuddin, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jaques Kallis AB D’Villiers……
All of them, either very attractive stroke makers, or explosive batsmen who could tear any bowling attack apart. No doubt, that they all have been greats of the game, very attractive to watch when they batted, and had a very long lived consistency of performances to go with it. Yours truly is in no less awe of these names, then anyone of you ardent cricket lovers are!
However, looking at the more recent test matches (more recent would mean the ones which took place since the start of this millennium it has been observed, that a breed of batsmen, which are not the ones to be the apple of the eyes of the spectators, appears to be on the way to extinction. They are called the stonewallers, the one who fight tooth and neck to save their wicket, concentrate amongst the frustrated bowlers and fielders of the opposition and would even wither body blows and still hang in there, but not get out. They are the guys who are actually the glue which holds the entire woodwork of an innings together. They may not be attractive to watch, they may not be scoring always at a brisk pace, but the mere presence of these guys at the wicket makes the opposition feel that they have no chance of getting a wicket at their end. They were the epitomes of concentration, resilience, grit, and the never say die spirit, which actually are essential ingredients of good test cricket.
And in this list would feature a lot of batsmen, who don’t have a bad record, either, in terms of the runs scored, batting averages, and centuries and fifties (if they are any measure of greatness). The batsmen of this variety are, Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford, Jack Hobbs, Ken Barrington ( who, in the mid fifties was described as the most attractive stroke maker in 1955, and then in 1962, as the slowest crawler on the cricket field), Bill Lawry, Conrad Hunte, Basil Butcher, Chris Tavare, Geoffrey Boycott, Mohinder Amarnath, Allan Border, Steve Waugh (whose career also progressed much like Barrington), Rahul Dravid, Shivnariane Chanderpaul, Gary Kirsten….. All dour, boring, hard on the eye, but very difficult to get rid of !
Just to dwell a bit on what value these batsmen brought to the table, without being essentially entertaining, and many a times boring the spectators to sleep, a few things come to my mind. And thinking about this, what surprised me is, that how close these qualities are, in order to achieve success in life too. If were to look at these qualities ..
Hanging in there: These batsmen, come what may, would hang in there. They may be beaten repeatedly, get edges, offer chances, be hit on the body, be sledged at, be the constantly ridiculed by the media, but when on the field, what mattered to them was only the red cricket ball coming towards them. It could be bouncing awkwardly, could be spinning viciously, swinging wildly or hurrying them for pace, these batters would simply stand there with the primary motive of keeping it out of their wicket. And thereby, provide their team with immense assurance, that at least at their end, wicket won’t be lost. They were keen on surviving.
Looking at the broader picture, and not brief flashes of Glamour: These batsmen never had a problem playing the second fiddle to their more entertaining partners. When a Sehwag was blazing all guns at one end, you would essentially see a Dravid grafting, and making sure that he doesn’t lose his wicket, and thereby relieving Sehwag of any pressure that would curb his fearless stroke play. Same applies to many Great partnerships between the pairs like Lara and Chanderpaul, Tendulkar and Dravid, and many more. If you would go into the match situations of many great partnerships over the nearly 140 years of test cricket, you would see that in many a partnerships, Bradman wouldn’t have able to dazzle like he did, without support from Jack FIngleton, Ponsford, Woodfull, Sid Barnes all of whom were stonewallers. The fact that the stonewallers batted that way didn’t essentially mean that they were incapable of strokeplay, instead it meant that they were able to curb their rush of blood in the interest of the team most of the times. You can’t say that Rahul Dravid couldn’t play attractive strokes and score at a brisk pace, just take a look at his ODI record and strike rates. Similarly, Chanderpaul’s 69 ball hundred in the epic chase of 418 for West Indies against Australia belies the man’s reputation of being dour, uninteresting and ugly. Also not to forget the replies the normally sedate Mohinder Amarnath gave to the bowlers, when bouncers were hurled at him. However, exceptions to the stonewallers always putting the team’s interest before their glory do exist in Boycott and Barrington, who were dropped from the England side for “selfish batting” while eyeing personal milestones. Boycott, incidentally had scored 246 n.o. against India, and was dropped in the very next test.
Resilience:Many of the innings off these batsmen have been match saving innings, rather than match winning ones. This would show that, these were the guys to rely on, when the chips were down. They would not give their wicket away, and due to their cool heads, would have the best chances of averting defeat, and if they then would see any light at the end of the tunnel, scoot along to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The example of innings of such quality is the 180 and 281 scored by Dravid and Laxman on the Eden Gardens against the mighty Australians in 2001. They first batted to save innings defeat, and then went on to build an innings for India, where they could only win, on that turning Kolkata track.
It has also been seen that at least a few of the batsmen featured in the above list of flamboyant stroke makers, as their game matured, and they grew older, had come to value their wicket more, than playing to the galleries. They did open up and please the eye, but only when they were well set. They realised over the time, that to thrive, one must survive….. Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis are very good example of that. A few of the innings which come to the mind of these players are, the 9 hour 172 scored by Gavaskar at Bangalore in 1979 to tire the Pakistan Attack of Imran Khan, Sikander Bakht, Abdul Qadir, and Iqbal Qasim into submission, Sachin Tendulkar’s 241n.o at the Sydney Cricket ground, And Kallis’ twin centuries in South Africa against India in 2011.
This proves a point, that whatever these batsmen did, was of big, lasting value for their teams. And hence, I wouldn’t make a request of sparing a thought for the contribution of these guys, but would ask people to recognise what these people have done for their teams and the flamboyant stroke players therein to flourish….
And yes, in the new breed of batsmen too, there are guys of this variety turning up for teams. There are Ken Williamson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hashim Amla, on the scene, who, in spite of being capable of exquisite, explosive strokeplay, are prepared to scrap, hang in there and provide security to their teams’ batting line ups.
To conclude, I would borrow and modify a line from James Henry Leigh Hunt’s poem Abou Ben Adhem, which was a part of my school curriculum and say,
“May their Tribe Increase…..”
They are extremely essential for the survival and growth of test cricket, and cricket as a whole….
Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe , who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article.