A worrying lack of options

Partab Ramchand

May 6, 2002

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Inconsistency is the bane of Indian cricket teams and the current squad in the West Indies is no different. One can't really be sure when the side will touch the heights of glory or when they will plumb the depths. They alternate so quickly between the two extremes that it becomes extremely frustrating. Just last year it happened in Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka and now again they have followed up a notable triumph at Port of Spain with a humiliating loss at Bridgetown only some ten days later.


There are a couple of disturbing thoughts even as the Indians lick their wounds. One is that the remaining two Tests are at Kingston, Jamaica and St John's, Antigua. The Indians have not exactly covered themselves with glory at these venues, especially at Kingston, where the tally reads five losses and three draws. Conditions at Sabina Park are generally similar to those at the Kensington Oval.
But then of course the Indians must have known that conditions at the Kensington Oval would not be as amiable as those prevalent at the Queen's Park Oval. There are batsmen who intimidate bowlers and bowlers who intimidate batsmen. But here we have a ground that has a demoralizing effect on the Indians.

Seven defeats in eight matches at this venue ­ including five in a row, which makes it next only to Lord's where the Indians lost six successive Tests in the period 1932-1967 ­ is frankly an unnerving record. The West Indies would seem to hold all the psychological aces against India at Bridgetown and unless the visitors are able to shake this off ­ like they did with a splendid fighting performance in 1971 ­ more defeats are bound to follow.

After all, it is not just the pace of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Ian Bishop, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose and Franklyn Rose that has laid the Indians low at this jinxed venue. Even the spin of Sonny Ramadhin, Lance Gibbs and David Holford has been the cause of much misery for the visitors. And the infamous collapse in 1997 when the Indians, set to get just 120 runs for victory, were bowled out for 81 symbolises India's dismal showing at Bridgetown.

The Indians did just about everything wrong but there is little doubt that the batting caused more problems than the bowling. When a side is bowled out for 102 on the first day, it is an arduous uphill journey from then on and only some incisive bowling followed by determined batting can possibly save the day. Sadly, both were missing.

The bowling was generally wayward. There was little planning or effort taken to think a batsman out. During the long fifth wicket partnership between Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, frequently it seemed as if the bowlers were just going through the motions of completing the over.

A deficit of 292 can be crippling but it was hoped that the Indians, by a better showing the second time around on a pitch that looked to have eased out, could put up a fight. The optimist's mind instantly went back to Lord's in 1979, when despite being shot out for 96 on the opening day and finishing 323 runs behind on the first innings, the Indians came back to save the Test thanks a 210-run third wicket partnership between Gundappa Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar, one of the most famous rearguard actions in Indian cricket.

It was quaint to think of such heroics but we were all to be badly disillusioned. The second innings was an improvement over the first ­ anything would be ­ but that was not enough.

There are a couple of disturbing thoughts even as the Indians lick their wounds. One is that the remaining two Tests are at Kingston, Jamaica and St John's, Antigua. The Indians have not exactly covered themselves with glory at these venues, especially at Kingston, where the tally reads five losses and three draws. Conditions at Sabina Park are generally similar to those at the Kensington Oval.

The Indians will be a bit more comfortable with their record at Antigua where both the Tests in 1983 and 1997 have been drawn. All the same, the fun and games of Bourda and Queen's Park Oval are over and the tough part of the tour starts now. But one wonders whether the Indians are mentally, physically and technically prepared to tackle it.

The second worrying aspect is that there is precious little that can be done to work out any change in strategy. Yes, the top-order is a bit more secure with Wasim Jaffer proving to be a success and Shiv Sundar Das providing some semblance of substance. The failure of the famed middle-order ­ with the notable exception of the skipper who at last seems to be coming into his own ­ did cause some dismay but it is strong enough to make one feel that this was just an aberration.

The main problem concerns the bowling. The spin department, in particular, is a major worry with neither Anil Kumble nor Harbhajan Singh inspiring confidence. Both have bowling averages of 40 plus when it comes to Tests abroad. And whichever combination the team management opts for ­ three seamers and one spinner or two seamers and two spinners ­ there is nothing to suggest that the four bowlers will deliver the goods.

The line-up, to be candid, is quite problematic but then there are hardly any other options for the selectors and one supposes the team will have to soldier along with this tried and tested ­ though only partly successful ­ quartet for the rest of the series. And that is a sobering thought even for the most optimistic Indian cricket fan.

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Tour Results
West Indies v India at Port of Spain - Jun 2, 2002
India won by 56 runs (D/L method)
West Indies v India at Port of Spain - Jun 1, 2002
West Indies won by 7 wickets (with 17 balls remaining)
West Indies v India at Bridgetown - May 29, 2002
India won by 7 wickets (with 31 balls remaining)
West Indies v India at Kingston - May 26, 2002
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
West Indies v India at Kingston - May 25, 2002
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
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