Suresh Menon

There is sympathy for the West Indies, but India should make it 4-0

The last few months has seen India rely upon the three main openers in M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan and bringing in old hands, Gautam Gambhir and Parthiv Patel as replacements.

The last few months has seen India rely upon the three main openers in M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan and bringing in old hands, Gautam Gambhir and Parthiv Patel as replacements.  

There is little stomach for Test cricket in the Caribbean and it loses out in the supply-and-demand stakes

The Australian leg-spinner and cartoonist Arthur Mailey has written about the time he had his boyhood hero, the great Victor Trumper stumped in a club match. “There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure,” he said. “I felt like a boy who had killed a dove.”

Test cricket is a hard game, and there is little room in a competition for sentimentality and regret. Yet, there is a touch of dove-killing about India’s annihilation of a once-great team like the West Indies.

If India do not win the series 4-0, they can consider this an unsuccessful tour. In Antigua, it was the Indian pacemen who troubled the West Indies, a reversal of history when some of the greatest fast bowlers helped the West Indies win series 5-0 while threatening life and limb.

Those intimidatory days

The defining photograph of the period was England captain Mike Gatting’s nose, pulped by a delivery from Malcolm Marshall. When the ball was returned to Marshall, he found a bit of Gatting’s nose embedded in it!

Bishan Bedi once declared an innings closed in Jamaica to protest against the intimidation which put Indian batsmen in hospital.

Anshuman Gaekwad was hit over the ear by Michael Holding who also broke the middle finger of Gundappa Vishwanath’s left hand. Brijesh Patel took a Vanburn Holder delivery on his mouth, and India, from 178 for one were 306 for six with three batsmen in hospital and the bowlers Bedi and Chandrasekhar to come.

“I spoke to the umpire about the intimidation,” said Bedi afterwards, “but he only laughed.”

Holding admits today he was uncomfortable with the way he was asked to bowl. India had won the previous Test and Clive Lloyd’s captaincy was in some danger.

Bedi’s lament

So does he regard West Indies’ struggle now as comeuppance, I asked Bedi after the Antigua Test. “Oh no!,” he said. “My abiding feeling is one of sorrow. It is wonderful to see India win, but look at the mess the West Indies have made of their cricket. Sad, sad, sad.” Not even those who suffered at the hands of the West Indies in the 1970s and 80s see the decline as retribution.

The T20 Caribbean Premier League (CPL, or “Cricket Played Louder” as one hoarding claims), now in its fourth year, is being played at the same time as the Test series.

The best West Indies players are thus engaged elsewhere. Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, Jerome Taylor, Kieron Pollard, Kieran Powell, the core of the national side are not in it. The priorities are clear.

Of course, given the problems with the West Indies Cricket Board, there is no guarantee they would have been selected even had they been available. Cricket, once seen as a calling is now a profession — which is how it is in the rest of the world — and you can’t fault a sportsman for following the money.

Yet there is something deeply unsatisfactory about riding roughshod over a second or even third string side. India deserve better.

Ironically, tomorrow i.e. July 28 is the 80th birthday of the greatest cricketer the West Indies have produced: Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers. C.L.R. James called him a “West Indian cricketer, not merely a cricketer from the West Indies.” The subtlety is lost on many of today’s players.

Sobers’s unsuccessful plea

Some months ago, Sobers, along with a few ex-players had called for the dissolution of the West Indies Cricket Board, leaving it to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization for economic co-operation to work out the administration of cricket. It was a sentiment that reflected the CARICOM’s cricket review panel, but was rejected by the member-countries.

The West Indies as a nation exists only on a cricket pitch. It is a collection of independent countries so you can’t see the kind of Supreme Court intervention that set things right with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Inter-island rivalries are long-established, although ironically, the CPL has succeeded in reducing some of it by having a captain from one island lead a team from another. Kieron Pollard from Trinidad, for example, leads the Barbados Tridents.

There is little stomach for Test cricket in the Caribbean. The West Indies are the World T20 champions, and don’t see why they should pour too much energy and resources into the five-day game. Last year, there were 69 local players in the CPL, so the pool is not empty by any means. Test cricket loses out in the supply-and-demand stakes.

It is against this background that India’s progress in the West Indies must be seen. They can only play — and beat — the team that turns up, and professional players have a practiced way of tuning out everything except the job on hand. India’s best series win abroad came in 1968 in New Zealand where they won 3-1.

Now comes their chance to top that. Between sympathy and victory, most teams prefer the latter.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 2:58:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/suresh-menon/There-is-sympathy-for-the-West-Indies-but-India-should-make-it-4-0/article14509737.ece

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