India tour of West Indies 2019 – Reverse swing of fortunes

Indian cricket team’s current dominance owes it to strong domestic circuit that has different formats viz. Ranji, Deodhar, Irani and IPL.

Written by September 9, 2019 16:43

By comprehensively beating the West Indies in recent ODI and Test series (2-0 in both; huge margins of 318 and 257 runs in Tests), Indian cricket team finally cast aside the team’s tag of ‘Tigers at home, minnows abroad’. India had won both the ODI bilateral and Test series for first time in Australia (2018). It also beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in Tests (first whitewash overseas), 5-0 in ODI and 1-0 in T-20 in 2017.Admittedly, India lost the Test series in South Africa and England last year (2018); but in both the Indian team contested as equals, earning all round respect.

On paper as well on pitch, India-West Indies (WI) cricket combat appeared like a non-contest to all the observers.

Like all average ten-year-old Indian kids, one began following cricket when WI visited India in 1974-75. Then, besides weekly Chitrahaar and Sunday Hindi film, Black and White TV(Doordarshan) transmitted live telecast of local Test matches and Wimbledon (Vijay Amritraj counted as ABC of tennis, others being Borg and Connors). I had also read of Sunil Gavaskar’s legendary batting during WI tour in 1971(averaging 154.80 with 770 runs). But what defined West Indies was when Indian team was battered and brutalized by WI’s feared, fiery fast bowlers in 4th Test in 1976 series -after WI failed to win with three spinners in the third Test. With the bodyline bowling, Vishwanath had broken finger, Brijesh Patel was hit on the face and Anshuman Gaekwad was taken to hospital (Mohinder out to short pitched delivery). In order to protect lower order spinners, Captain Bishen Bedi had to declare with four wickets and six wickets at hand (five as retired hurt- a rarity not repeated ever) in first and second innings respectively. That memory somewhat endured as late as 2002 when Anil Kumble bravely bowled with a bandaged broken jaw. Viv Richards called that sight as one of the bravest effort in Test cricket.

Seems Jasprit just doesn’t have any ‘preet’ (love) for opposition batsmen. Bumrah left them ‘gumrah’-standing baffled-at crease. His taking 6 wickets for 27 runs in second Test was a jewel like performance of an Indian pacer while playing overseas. Seeing Bumrah bamboozle WI batsmen and sending their wickets cartwheeling, one derived a feeling of vicarious satisfaction for vengeance for similar fate, faced by dreadful Indian batsmen while facing likes of Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Walsh etc. It was indeed a strange feeling of realizing the shoe pinch on the other side, after being on the receiving side for decades. And feeling wasn’t of elation; but of sadness to see what has become of once mighty invincible WI team, whose exploits are part of folklore immortalized in the documentary titled ‘Fire in Babylon’. Before that, the invincible team tag was donned by the Aussie team led by Sir Don Bradman in 1948.

Cricket like civilizational history and life patterns, follows a cyclical path. Nothing illustrates this better than the one sided way Indian cricket team used to be battered and browbeaten into abject surrender by the West Indies team in ODI and Test series. It was a lesson well learnt and replicated by Clive Lloyd while competing against Thomson and Lillee duo in 1975-76 series which WI lost 5-1 to Australia.

Witnessing West Indies all round helplessness in this series made one wonder as to what happened to the mighty West Indies team that tore every opposition asunder with brutal battering first with bowling, and then while batting belting virtually every ball out of park. Just to recall their domination, WI’s humbling of Kim Hughes led to a teary resignation from captaincy in mid series in 1984.

Possessing almost perfect balance that combined perfect batting line-up (straight down from openers), buttressed with brutal bowling battery, the team spewed all round fire that burnt down all opposition. No wonder the film about their dominance is called ‘Fire in Babylon’.

Though on slightly downward spiral by then, the West Indies team was so incensed at their unexpected and humiliating loss to India in 1983 World Cup, that the team collectively swore to wipe out India in ODI series coming up immediately in India. True to their word, just when all ceremonial celebrations commemorating Kapil Dev’s World Cup victory were closing, West Indies thrashed India with 5-0 and 3-0 in Tests; it led to unceremonious exit of Kapil Dev as caption subsequently. West Indies team reminded that winning World Cup was a fluke at best and India was still a minnow against the mighty West Indies. So, in a way, West Indies team extracted some personal revenge against Kapil Dev for making them bite the cold dust in England. Proving that their fearsome bowlers didn’t need grassy and bouncy wickets, they unleashed full fury raising enough dust in the dull wickets which touring teams famously called as dustbowl of Indian subcontinent.

One has always wondered why WI after eighties couldn’t rise up to be the top team like Aussie team did under Alan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh after similar decline after Chappell era? Possibly, explanation lies in intense colonial suppression that fueled revenge seeking spirit in decolonized and free Caribbean islands. This pent up emotion unified the islands as one unit with underlying passion to bring the past rulers to their knees and at mercy of freed people at least on the cricket field; humbling of once rulers extracted grudging acceptance of liberated individuals and team as equals for the first time. Expectedly, the newly de-colonised island countries came together in collective nationalistic feeling of self-assertion by an inspiring captain. Clive Lloyd bound together 15 countries- with 21,000 sq km area in the Caribbean- with the avowed aim of seeking vicarious vengeance on the colonial powers. The victories over England and Australia filled all islands with a feeling of self-respect. This conscious and unconscious motivation of individuals and countries is admitted by the King Viv Richards in Gavaskar’s seventies book titled ‘Sunny Days’; it described burning desire of the Caribbean to be treated with respect.

But the WI team started declining from mid-nineties. WI haven’t been exactly short on talented bench strength since the retirements of S. Chanderpaul and Brian Lara. Great individual records stand in the names of Lara but despite having Walsh and Ambrose as hunting pair, they couldn’t compete as an all-conquering team. Even today, WI team hasn’t lost the fortune of finding tall and well-built fast bowlers (Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Andre Russel) but despite occasional brilliance few have turned out to be consistent match winners. Some squarely put the blame on slowing down of Caribbean pitches as a root cause of team’s declining fortunes. In batting, much was expected of Dwayne Bravo but he has failed to rise up to the billing. Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard have shown batting brilliance in ODIs only. WI won the T20 World Cup 2016 due to barrage of brutal sixes by Braithwaite in the last over . Like Ajantha Mendis of Sri Lanka, Sunil Narine was supposed to outfox the batsmen but he too hasn’t lived up to the promised potential. Now, at 6 feet 5 inches 140 kg Shane Cornwall’s(like Big Bird Joel Garner) spin is touted to turn the team’s fortunes.

Indian cricket team’s current dominance owes it to strong domestic circuit that has different formats viz. Ranji, Deodhar,Irani and IPL. Similarly, reasons behind Australia and England’s cricket teams have been strong Sheffield and County Championship system respectively. Pakistan and West Indies have always relied on bursting natural talent that repeatedly replenishes their bench strength. But it seems that the WI needs to strengthen their competition and selection systems; even coaches like Viv Richards also couldn’t lift the sagging fortunes of the WI team. WI though has now a national T20 league like Pakistan that threw up players like Keiron Pollard. ODI and T20 team still shows some brilliance from time to time (as it did in recent ODI World Cup) but in the Tests the WI team has been struggling for long specially after Lara era.

In India, first came the filled up coffers of the BCCI and then professionalism followed by IPL and more professionalism in every possible department. Now the elaborate infrastructure and moolah makes every kid dream to be a cricketer. Democratization of cricket establishment has led to expanding infrastructure across all India; players are now coming from all over the countryside, not just from only Mumbai and Delhi,

Initially, only England and Aussies as white colonisers were countries to beat and one can say WI did avenge their subjugation vicariously, in some sense. But when countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa came on the scene, the passion and fire to beat them wasn’t the same for the West Indies.

It is sad to see sadness on the faces of WI’s Samba swaying stadium spectators, on seeing the plight of present players on the pitches. Instead of Samba songs, one can hear Indian sounds of Arrey Kya hua Sambha .

It is always sad to see when mighty fall from the Mount Olympus to become minnows. West Indies team presently is a pale shadow of what was truly a champion team. And not only the Caribbean countries, the world is waiting for the rebirth and return of the glorious team of the seventies and eighties that won 30 out of 57 Tests with 4 drawn under the Supercat- Clive Lloyd. A feat that is still unmatched by any Test team for displaying total dominance.