“Like Atlantis or Macondo, this country had no coordinates; it was an exotic land, proximate to nothing — its cricketers were gods,” noted Mukul Kesavan in his charmingly-sharp book ‘Men in White’.
He was, of course, referring to the West Indies, a team that has traditionally been the second favourite, aside from their home countries, of many cricket fans.
India’s cricket aficionados, in particular, have passionately romanced the joyous brutality that characterised the islanders’ game. As Kesavan wrote, “the big story of modern Indian cricket is our duet with the West Indies.”Easy target-practice
In recent times, however, the prospect of a home series for India versus the West Indies has been met with the suppressed sniggers of the more cynical of observers. This line of thinking has its roots in the not-entirely unfounded assessment that the men from the Caribbean have proved easy target-practice for the Indians, particularly, after an unforgiving foreign assignment. The familiarity factor is unmistakeable: since June-July 2011, India and West Indies have faced off in eight Tests and 16 ODIs.
In 2011, West Indies arrived in India after the latter had endured a torrid examination in England. India, with a 2-0 victory, steered its way back to a smoother path before the calamitous Australian tour.
Now, India finds itself in an eerily-similar mezzanine position with an unsuccessful English sojourn behind it, and an Australian odyssey to look forward to. It’s hence assumed that the Windies is a readily-available sparring partner for India to re-discover its bearings. Last year, when the team turned up for Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell, it could manage no more than one win.
This time around, West Indies has a little more elbow room as it plays five ODIs, a T20, and three Test matches. The one-dayers’ context and significance can’t be overstated: with the World Cup only a few months away, a joust with the World champion is the ideal preparatory exercise. Despite losing its twin tour games to India ‘A’, West Indies, in boxing parlance, is no tomato can.
Its manager Richie Richardson suggested that arriving early and acclimatising to the conditions would help the team’s cause. “We have just come out of a successful series against Bangladesh.”Narine withdrawal
Looming large will also be the suspension of Sunil Narine in the Champions League after being reported twice for a suspect action and his subsequent withdrawal from the tour.
Clive Lloyd, chairman of the West Indies selection panel, duly launched a broadside on the timing of the decision.
Further, his revelation that the Windies team management was told beforehand that the mystery spinner was under scrutiny added fuel to the fire.
The team has also been hampered further by an injury to the talismanic Chris Gayle. But, the visitor would feel empowered by the presence of its captain Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, and Jerome Taylor, the comeback-man. There is also Darren Bravo, Kieron Pollard, and Darren Sammy — each of whom can singlehandedly provide his team with the whip-hand.Raucous cheering
Meanwhile, some of India’s cricketers such as Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, and Ambati Rayudu arrived here on Monday afternoon to some raucous cheering at the airport.
While they were their usual relaxed, cheerful selves, deep down they would be mindful of living up to their billing.
With the nucleus of the side having already been established, there will be a scramble for the few openings.
For the returning Amit Mishra and youngsters like left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, it will be one of the more important auditions for gaining entry into the World Cup squad. As a team, India can ill afford a slip-up ahead of the gruelling Australian series.
West Indies, having not won a Test series in India in three decades and with its last ODI series win here a decade ago, would want to rewrite history.
Much would, inevitably, depend on how hungry the team is.