Calypso time, again
West Indies team today is like the Indian team of the late 90s.
May 12, 2006: As another West Indies tour kicks off, it is worth remembering another tour to the Caribbean about 9
years ago. One significant difference is that there is no Sachin Tendulkar now whereas there was ONLY Sachin Tendulkar then. He was skipper then, leading a team that was neither talented nor committed.
The team suffered certain inexplicable defeats in Test matches as well as ODIs (Barbados and St Vincent)
which had the captain fuming. Later events proved that those defeats may have had to do with things other
than chance and coincidence. It was at the end of that series that Outlook magazine wrote its ‘historic’
cover story on match-fixing. What the magazine did was only to put together the kind of loose talk widely
prevalent among cricket journos.
Much water has flown under the bridges since then. Some of the black sheep has been discarded and cricket in India has prospered. West Indian cricket, on the other hand, has declined further even though Brian Lara is still playing. He was some kind of rebel genius then and now the team’s only hope. In a sense,
the West Indies team seems to be the India of the late 90s. A great batsman at the helm without many other batsmen to give solidity to the middle order and a bowling line-up which doesn’t even have one big name.
In a team full of super stars like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, it doesn’t
matter if a certain batsman called Tendulkar is unfit to play and herein lies the best sign of the team’s
batting muscle. Fast bowling is still nothing to boast about and fielding has improved while nobody has
doubts anymore about the commitment of players. In the 1996-97 series, there was a lot of talk about
over dependence on Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid was young enough to address journalists as ‘sir’ and Ganguly was constantly wondering about whether he would be playing the next morning or not.
The importance of playing in West Indies now can’t be overstated given that the World Cup, the most
prestigious event in the ICC calendar, is going to be played there. It will give the youngsters a chance to
understand the pitches and get used to the ambiance. After the 1997 tour, the team has visited the islands a few times but has not won many times. The series presents a wonderful opportunity for the team to score some wins abroad. They may struggle initially because of lack of Indian food but the fair sprinkling of expat and embassy crowd can keep the pickles flowing, so to say.
There was an interesting bit of conversation from Greg Chappell just before the team boarded the plane to the islands. Somebody asked the brainy coach whether the team was peaking too early. He said ‘peaking’ was just another word and if it was about playing at your best, the team still had some distance to go. It reminded everyone how we get caught with certain phases in cricket like ‘peaking early’ and ‘choking at big
matches’ and so on. If you have enough players with skill and guts, you may not miss even a Tendulkar.