A Defeat That Still Rankles
Down Memory Lane
Twenty-five years have passed but it is a defeat that still rankles Indian cricket fans. It will certainly continue to haunt Sachin Tendulkar who just couldn't come to terms with a defeat that has remained difficult to digest. That has to be the case when India set 120 for victory and were bowled out for 81.
What compounds the pain is that it was the only decisive result of the five-Test series. So it could well have been India notching up their first ever triumph in the Caribbean since 1971. As it was West Indies which won the contest 1-0.
It was with some hope that the Indians left for the Caribbean Islands early in 1997. Two years before the West Indians' long dominance in world cricket ended with Australia winning the four-match series 2-1. Then in the return contest Down Under in 1996-97 Australia again won 3-2.
The West Indies thanks to the retirement of several stalwarts were in the transitional process even if they still had world class players in Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. But they no longer possessed the invincible tag and it was reckoned that India could get the better of them.
They certainly had the batting to counter the West Indian pace attack. The line-up started with Navjot Sidhu and VVS Laxman and continued with Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Md Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia. The visitors did suffer a blow when their pace spearhead Javagal Srinath was injured shortly after arriving in the Caribbean and had to fly right back home. But the Indian attack in the hands of Venkatesh Prasad, Abey Kuruvilla, Anil Kumble and Sunil Joshi was still in good hands. In any case it was reckoned that the formidable batting would cover up for any inadequacy in the bowling.
How ironic it is then to note that one batting failure cost India the series. The bowlers on rather responsive tracks rose to the occasion. Even the free stroking home team batsmen could never really go after them as with their pace, bounce and turn the Indian quartet kept them on a leash. In four of the Tests, two of them badly affected by rain, the Indians more than held their own and all these matches were drawn. The one Test in which the Indians had the upper hand they contrived to lose in a manner that made Indian cricket followers hopping mad.
The Indians came to Bridgetown for the third Test as confident as the hosts for the series so far had been honours shared in more ways than one. It was clear that there was really nothing to choose between the teams which were of equal strength. Moreover Sidhu showed splendid form in getting 201 in the second Test and this augured well for the Indians.
West Indies opting to bat first scored 298 with Chanderpaul who had a special liking for Indian bowling getting an unbeaten 137. The Indians with valuable contributions from most of their leading players replied with 319. Then on a green surface the Indian pace trio of Prasad, Kuruvilla and Dodda Ganesh worked havoc dismissing the West Indies for 140. Ganesh had replaced Joshi, for the pitch showed signs of excessive pace and bounce.
India required just 120 runs for victory and were firm favourites to go one up in the series. What followed was simply inexplicable. What Prasad, Kuruvilla and Ganesh did, Bishop, Ambrose and Franklyn Rose returned the favour with a vengeance. Rose made sure that Walsh was not missed (the West Indian captain was injured and missed the Test handing over the captaincy to Lara).
One by one the Indian batsmen succumbed before the relentless pressure exerted on them by the West Indian pace trio. In just under three hours and off 36 overs India were shot out for 81 to lose the Test by 38 runs. Ambrose and Rose took three wickets each while Bishop finished with four.
It was simply inexcusable. How did such a lustrous batting order fall short of what appeared to be an easy target and an eminently gettable one. Try as they might there were no satisfactory answers. Three hours of madness left the Indian cricketers with disturbing memories of the tour that linger even today.
Well after the match was over Tendulkar shaking his head kept saying, "I can't believe it". He spoke for every Indian cricket follower. "When will we get another chance like this?'' asked the shattered skipper who acknowledged the defeat was the nadir of his captaincy. Coach Madan Lal was furious and could not even find words to show what he felt about the debacle, "I don't know what to say about a team which cannot even make 120 runs.''
Predictably there was gloom in the Indian dressing room and disappointment was writ large on the faces of the players, most notably the skipper who lamented the wasted opportunity. A golden opportunity was indeed lost because rain interfered badly with the two remaining Tests which ended in tame draws. Thus leaving the Indians to think about what might have been had the batsmen shown better application in that all important second innings at Bridgetown. Ultimately it was a line-up that looked strong on paper but collapsed when faced with a challenge.