Visits of the Caribbean cricket teams to India had always been eagerly awaited encounters of heady excitement. However, the thrill was limited to the adrenaline rushing sight of huge fast bowlers tearing in at the speed of lightning, sending down thunderbolts, more often than not decimating the home team batting line ups. The great stalwarts of Indian batting did often put up brave resistance, but accounts of the exploits of Vijay Manjrekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar et al. read more like the stories of the boy on the burning deck, elegies to the tragic heroes who died fighting.
The sequence of events would be highly predictable. A series against the Calypso brigade would start with a battery of pace bowlers crushing the spirited but hapless Indian batting. Be it Wes Hall and Charlie Gilchrist, Andy Roberts and Vanburn Holder, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh – the first Test was destined to be a batting debacle, followed by the domination of West Indian batting masters in the form of Everton Weekes, Rohan Kanhai, Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards and the others. The contests ensured wonderful performances of legendary names, precious memories to recount to later generations, sometimes a good fight as in 1975, but not much more to cheer for from the Indian point of view.
It did start to change with the great Test match of Feroz Shah Kotla, 1987. The Indians stopped being pushovers. Later during the series, on a Chennai minefield, Narendra Hirwani took 16 wickets to ensure a 1-1 result. But, India became firmly established as the dominant side only after the gripping Test match at the Wankhede Stadium played seven years later.
Expectations this time around were radically different as the series started in a foggy day of November, 1994. India, as a nation, was just starting to make its presence felt in the world arena as a force to reckon with. Open economy, forces of globalisation, along with Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble had ensured that the common Indian man now brimmed with confidence when taking on the might of foreign powers. People were moving around to distant corners of the world and international action was being witnessed live on cable television. The awe at the sight of imported goods and visiting cricketers was fast disappearing. Just before this, they had also won nine home Tests on the trot.
|Walsh tears in to bowl|
Walsh struck with his second ball, getting Manoj Prabhakar caught at short-leg. At the other end, Navjot Sidhu put on a display of nightmarish struggle. Vinod Kambli, distinctly uncomfortable against the fiery pace, lashed out a few boundaries but did not look anywhere near convincing.
After a hasty, unclean 40, Kambli departed, snicking one from Walsh. Even during the first hour, the wicket gave indications of being semi-prepared. Batting was always going to be difficult.
Yet, Sachin Tendulkar, walking in now, made it look extraordinarily easy. Even as Sidhu continued his tentative existence, Tendulkar raced away to a start, with seven crisply struck boundaries.
However, just after lunch, he missed an in-swinger from Walsh to be trapped plumb for 34. Captain Mohammad Azharuddin lasted five balls before falling to a short one from Benjamin, and Walsh thankfully put Sidhu out of his long misery by trapping him leg before.
At 99 for five, it was as if the age old Caribbean dominance was establishing itself yet again. The Indian team was playing for the first time in years without the services of the recently-retired Kapil Dev, and doomsday prophets were already dipping their pessimistic pens in gloomy inkpots to scribble warnings on the wall.
At this juncture, Sanjay Manjrekar and Nayan Mongia put their heads down and staged a recovery, building a sensible, brave partnership. Manjrekar, correct and watchful, hung in there – seeing off over after over. Mongia, on the other hand, was having one of those rare days when he looked like a top order batsman. With Walsh and Benjamin tiring, Cuffy not bowling in the right places, and debutant Rajindra Dhanraj, understandably overawed by the occasion, the runs started to come. The pair added 136, Mongia top-scoring with 80, and India managed to put 272 on the board before Walsh (six for 79) and Benjamin (three for 48) made short work of the tail.
The second day witnessed the continuation of the see-saw battle that would be the story of the Test match.
After Phil Simmons had been snapped in the slips off Javagal Srinath, the Indians resorted to the three-spinner strategy which had proved so successful in the recent past. With the phenomenal accuracy of Anil Kumble holding one end up, Venkatapathy Raju and Rajesh Chauhan giving the ball an impressive amount of air, the West Indians soon started getting trapped in the web spun by the Indian trio. Brian Lara, the man people had flocked to see, was bowled by Raju after a long struggle. Carl Hooper lofted two sixes before falling to the same bowler. The patient Stuart Williams was removed by a tenacious Chauhan. Keith Arthurton, Jimmy Adams and Junior Murray all got good starts that got similarly derailed by the wily Raju. Kumble whisked out the tail cheaply. Raju picked up five wickets and Kumble three as the West Indian innings folded at 243.
The most important highlight of the innings was perhaps Arthurton calling for a chest guard when Raju and Kumble were bowling in tandem, underlining the uncertain vagaries of the pitch.
The Indians walked out to bat again during the closing stages of the second day with a paltry lead of 29 runs. And within a few minutes, the miniscule advantage had been neutralised and the match had been turned on its head.
Kenny Benjamin, fast and accurate, was the main architect of this turnaround. With the score on eight, he got Prabhakar caught in the slips. Nayan Mongia, who had shown impeccable application in the first innings, was sent in as the night watchman and found the new ball too hot to handle. After surviving four uncertain balls, more by luck than design, he fended the fifth to Jimmy Adams at short-leg. Two overs later, Vinod Kambli edged Benjamin to Hooper in the slips, and the Indians ended the day precariously at 11 for three. Navjot Sidhu at the other end was having another of his painstaking struggles at the wicket, and at the close of the second day the West Indians were definitely ahead by more than a bit.
The next morning, start was delayed by some wet footholes. The West Indian pacemen itched to have a go at the Indians and knock them over for a low score. The lead stood at a negligible 40, and a few quick wickets at this stage would win the match.
|Tendulkar leans into the drive|
The pitch had not improved, the ball behaved erratically, Sidhu was leg before wicket to Benjamin with the score reading 43, but Tendulkar stood there, striking the ball majestically. It was as if the cracks and crevices that had appeared on the wicket magically filled up every time he took guard. All of a sudden, the bowling of Walsh and Benjamin looked less than threatening. At the other end, Azharuddin was not really on top of the situation, but the first hour of the third day had ensured that the complexion of the match had changed again. The home team was back in the game, and as long as Tendulkar was there, was dictating terms.
Azhar fell to Hooper’s off spin with the score on 88, but with Manjrekar at the other end at his copybook best, Tendulkar continued in the same vein. With ten exquisitely-struck boundaries and one towering six off Dhanraj, he scored a masterly 85 in just under three hours before guiding a Hooper delivery into the gloves of Murray. Tendulkar’s vital innings had put India way ahead, but at 162 for six, there was still work to be done.
It was now that Kumble and Srinath produced two of the most brilliant innings ever played under pressure by Indian tailenders. With Manjrekar going on and on at the other end, batting for nearly four hours for his 66, Kumble started to look like a genuine batsman as he lit up the ground with some well timed drives. With Walsh and Benjamin back in an attempt to blast out the Indian tail, Kumble used the pace of the ball well, briskly moving to 42 before edging one to the slips to become the first Test wicket of Cuffy.
If the visitors expected a quick finish to the innings with the removal of the obstinate No 8, they were further disappointed. Srinath now produced a fascinating display of courage coupled with surprisingly sound technique. When Walsh bounced, he hooked for four with elegance and timing that left the bowler, the batsman and the rest of the players and spectators rubbing their eyes in disbelief. When Manjrekar was removed by Walsh at 265, Srinath’s response was to lift Hooper out of the ground. With both Chauhan and Raju putting steep price tags on their wickets, Srinath raced to his half century and was last out for an invaluable 60. The Indians had managed 333, remarkable in retrospect. It is indeed foolhardy to venture a comparison, but at least for this Test match, the pluck shown by Kumble and Srinath compensated for the absence of the great Kapil.
When West Indies began their chase of 363 on the fourth morning they could not have bargained for a worse start. Prabhakar, who had done precious little in the match so far, and would do even less hereafter, had Simmons caught behind and Lara clean bowled within the course of the first over.
At 26, Srinath trapped Williams leg before, and 22 runs later had Hooper caught behind. With an upcoming fight on a turning wicket against three quality spinners to deal with, the visitors had lost their first four wickets to medium pace. And when Arthurton was removed by Raju with 82 on the board, it seemed all was over bar the formalities and shouting.
|The Spinning Trio|
Adams, who averaged in the 60s in those days, gave a demonstration of what was to follow in the Test series. Using his pads to prodigious effect to negotiate the turning deliveries, he cashed in whenever the bowlers erred in line or pitched short. Murray, one of the few from Grenada to have ever played Test cricket, looked more accomplished, was untroubled by pace and spin, and lifted Chauhan twice for huge sixes.
After the success of the morning, the Indians spent almost three hours trying to separate the duo, Azharuddin springing forth every trick up his sleeve. Tendulkar was also tried for three overs, but the two West Indians kept on batting well into the last session of the fourth day.
They had added 162 runs, and the target was looking more and more attainable, a mere 119 runs away, when a persevering Chauhan spun a ball a long way to get through the attacking intent of Murray and bowl him for 85 priceless runs.
As so often happens with big partnerships, in the very next over Adams fell. Srinath jagged one back into him and it struck the left-hander on the back knee roll right in front of the stumps. The umpire raised his finger and an ecstatic Srinath looked heavenwards in delight while his teammates ran in and converged in fantastic celebrations. In a see-saw battle over five days, when the final roll of dice manifests itself after swaying this way and that, standing on the edge for quite some nerve-jangling moments, the ultimate euphoria and relief are both boundless.
The West Indian innings folded soon enough, Indians triumphing by a convincing 96 runs.
India dominated the series from then on, but could not win it in the end. A delayed declaration in the second Test and poor batting on the last day of the third ensured that they would not be the ones to stop the unbeaten Windies juggernaut of one and a half decades ... something achieved soon after, and perhaps more deservingly, by Mark Taylor’s Australians.
However, that Test at the Wankhede in 1994 shifted the equation of dominance towards the Indians and they have had the upper-hand ever since whenever the two sides have met.
India 272 (Vinod Kambli 40, Sachin Tendulkar 34, Sanjay Manjrekar 51, Nayan Mongia 80; Courtney Walsh 6-79, Kenny Benjamin 3-48) and 333 (Sachin Tendulkar 85, Sanjay Manjrekar 66, Anil Kumble 42, Javagal Srinath 60; Kenny Benjamin 4-82) bt West Indies 243 (Stuart Williams 49, Keith Arthurton 42, Jimmy Adams 39; Venkatapathy Raju 5-60, Anil Kumble 3-48) and 266 (Jimmy Adams 81, Junior Murray 85; Javagal Srinath 4-48, Venkatapathy Raju 3-85) by 96 runs