It’s a sign of the changing power equations in world cricket that a tour by a West Indian team hardly generates any interest today. So dramatic has been the Caribbeans’ fall from cricketing grace that the aura that once surrounded West Indian cricket is now a distant memory.
The last time the West Indies played a Test in India was back in 2002. Since then, India have hosted every team except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe more than once in Test series, but the Caribbeans have only made sporadic limited-overs appearances, their cricketing
decline appealing neither to the BCCI, nor to sponsors and broadcasters.
Massive upheavals back home, numerous run-ins between superstar cricketers and administrators, and the weaning away of aspirant cricketers by other sports seemed to have sent a proud cricketing legacy into an inexorable tailspin, but under the unlikely management group of skipper Darren Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson, recent results suggest the one-time kings of the world might slowly be finding their feet again.
Earlier this week, the West Indies completed their first overseas series win since November 2003, even if it only came against Bangladesh. For a side ranked seventh in the ICC standings, any victory is as precious as gold dust.
Come Sunday, Sammy and his boys face easily the biggest challenge of their lives -- bearding the Indian lion in its own den. India haven’t lost a series at home since their 1-2 defeat to Australia in 2004. The West Indies’ last series win here came immediately after the 1983 World Cup final, when Clive Lloyd’s fired-up bunch scored a crushing 3-0 triumph to avenge their shock loss at Lord’s. The team that has given world cricket such bowling stalwarts like Marshall and Holding, Roberts and Croft, Bishop and Benjamin, Ambrose and Walsh, is now a pale shadow of its former self, though the likes of Ravi Rampaul, Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and young leggie Devendra Bishoo are no pushovers.
“Against this Indian batting line-up, you probably need to play seven bowlers!” coach Ottis Gibson, himself a mean paceman, said on Friday afternoon at the Feroze Shah Kotla, and only half in jest. “Sachin, Gambhir, Dravid and Laxman and Sehwag -- they are all quality players. The batting line-up is awesome. You look at the number of runs in that top six, and then you have Dhoni at seven!”
It wasn’t as if Gibson was talking up the opposition. The awe was not a put-on, though few Caribbean teams have come as well prepared to India as this squad. Sammy’s men spent four weeks in Bangladesh playing T20, 50-over and Test cricket, and are as close to having acclimatised themselves to what to expect in India as can be expected.
“We are re-constructing, we have started to build and you can see that,” Gibson pointed out. “The mood in our dressing room is pretty positive. A lot of young players are making their way into our team and they have a lot of belief in themselves.”
Indeed, apart from the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels, no other West Indian has played a Test in India. “We are a young side, so many of the players have played so few matches,” Rampaul agreed. “But we just have to do what we have to do and believe in our ability. Hopefully, that can get us through the Test match.
“We’ve just come out of a series win in Bangladesh and we are quite confident,” the impressive paceman who has been in a rich vein of recent form added. “Coming here, we are up against a stronger side. Hopefully, we can play some competitive cricket. If we play to our strengths, there is no reason why we can’t do well in the series.”
India in India offers unique challenges, something Gibson is not unaware of. “You look at the conditions, you look at the crowd -- the Indian crowd has played a huge part in the success of the Indian team over the years -- and then we have quite a few guys who are not exposed to the sub-continent before and we understand all that,” he said.
Then came the rider. “It is a challenge and our players understand their responsibilities. We are looking forward to this challenge.” India beware; these Caribbeans, they are no pushovers!