June 7, 2011

How the tables have turned

In days gone by, Indian sides went to West Indies with fear and trembling. Today's West Indian players would do well to look to the current crop of Indians as role models
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For supporters of once-great sporting institutions like the San Francisco 49ers and Nottingham Forest, the past is another continent. Two centuries ago, when Samuel Johnson wrote that "distance has the same effect on the mind as on the eye", he wasn't thinking of cricket in one of the empire's outposts. But even those like Michael Holding, the fast-bowling great who believes that sporting success and failure are cyclical, struggle to reconcile the glory that was West Indies cricket with its present incarnation.

Over the next month, India will go from one island to the other with what is effectively a B side. And when talk turns to the opportunities that the tour presents for those on the fringes, the old-timers will wince a little.

It was a little over two decades ago that a Test match against West Indies represented the ultimate sporting challenge. Forget staged reality-TV shows. If you want to know what makes a man a survivor, watch footage of cricket from the late 1970s and '80s.

Or you could go even further back, to Nari Contractor. At 27 he captained India to a series victory against England. At 28, his time on the big stage was over, skull cracked open by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith in Barbados. India lost that series 0-5, with only Polly Umrigar and Bapu Nadkarni averaging more than 30. Needless to say, those who had to face Wesley Hall (who took 27 wickets in the series at 15.74) with inadequate protective gear weren't abuzz with enthusiasm at the prospect.

When someone like Subramaniam Badrinath marks his guard against the current crop of West Indian quicks, spare a thought for the likes of Ajay Sharma. A generation ago, he was Indian cricket's Badri, a titan of the domestic scene who eventually retired with a first-class average of 67. In his only Test, a game that India won on a Chennai crumbler, against Viv Richards' West Indies, he made 53 runs. His one-day career lasted 31 games. Sadly for him, 11 of them came against West Indies, against whom he made it past 30 only once.

That was around the time that Sanjay Manjrekar announced himself on the Test stage. His first game is now mostly remembered for a marvellous Richards century that set up what was then a record-breaking run chase on Indian soil. Manjrekar recalls it for the bouncer from Winston Benjamin that rearranged his features and sent him to ER.

For a young man making his way in the game, a multi-pronged pace attack that possessed the quiet menace of Hannibal Lecter didn't represent opportunity. It was like looking into a chasm from which you might never escape if you fell in. "I was a lamb to the slaughter, and I knew it," writes Matthew Hayden with disarming candour about the Boxing Day Test of 1996. "The West Indies knew it. Curtly Ambrose certainly knew it. If Curtly hadn't got me out that over then it would have happened in his next, or the one after that. I might as well not have bothered padding up because I was out before I got in. Every sportsman will tell you that there are times when you feel way out of your depth and you categorically know you're going to fail."

For a young man making his way in the game, a multi-pronged pace attack that possessed the quiet menace of Hannibal Lecter didn't represent opportunity. It was like looking into a chasm from which you might never escape if you fell in

You won't find opportunity described thus in the dictionary. You could also ask Vinod Kambli his views on the subject. Going into a home series against West Indies in 1994-95, he averaged 80 after 11 Tests. In six innings in Mumbai, Nagpur and Mohali, he made 64, dismissed without scoring thrice. He wasn't just shaken out of his comfort zone, he was tossed around like a rag doll; his career would see only three more Tests.

As India prepare for a series that they ought to win, they and everyone else need to learn from the Caribbean decline. In many ways Indian cricket is doing things right. For all the criticism of the Indian Premier League - much of it justified - it does provide young talent with the chance to learn from the grey eminences. Twenty20 may not be the most challenging format, but it gives 19- and 20-year-olds the opportunity to share a dressing room with those who no longer have the time or inclination, in some cases, to play domestic cricket.

Talk to someone like Ian Bishop about the mistakes made during the halcyon years, and that's one of the first things he'll mention. The tradition of senior players passing on wisdom and tricks, through club and Shell Shield cricket, largely disappeared at some point in the 1990s. A generation that grew up without much guidance predictably floundered.

Time was when Indians gazed on in awe at the great West Indian sides - at the batting of the three Ws, Sobers and Kanhai, and the bowling of Hall, Roberts and other legends. Things are very different now. Darren Bravo and the other young men who carry the burden of restoring West Indian fortunes need to look to VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. A callow crop of quick bowlers could do worse than observe how Zaheer Khan operates with the old ball.

These inheritors of a proud tradition need to find their feet quickly. The past may be another continent, but cricket simply cannot afford to see West Indies go the way of Atlantis.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on June 10, 2011, 19:51 GMT

    i had a dream last night that i was watching cricket on tv and ambrose was bowling...

  • Willowarriers on June 9, 2011, 8:22 GMT

    dsig3 -- the LOL is on you. The WI and the present Aussie crop pale in comparison to their predecesors. Yes, India is No. 1 and doesn't need permission from the likes of you to celebrate that fact. Cant stomach that fact? Looking back to to the golden years to say India would have smashed etc doesnt alter the fact that India will kick the but of other cricket sides in the present and now. And thats all that matters. Ambrose or Mcgrath can't come back and bowl for you. Get over it...

  • indiaworldchamps2011 on June 9, 2011, 1:48 GMT

    i wud jus like to think it in another perspective... in those days batsmen had so less protection which made some of the good (not gr8) bowlers look hostile... also the grounds were bigger n bats were not as gud as todays.... today the game is heavily in favour of the batsmen.. i wonder how effective those same bowlers wud have been if they were bowling today.. i dont think dale styne or even zaheer khan of today r any less talented.. its jus that the game has evolved n batsmen do not fear anyone....

  • dsig3 on June 8, 2011, 23:40 GMT

    LOL well I see you are enjoying your countries #1 status Dileep. Just remember though mate, these Indians would be smashed by the West Indies or the Australians in their prime. India may still yet reach those heights but you are not there yet. Best to keep your words humble mate because I have a sneaking suspicion that England will be No.1 in the future.

  • Metman on June 8, 2011, 22:27 GMT

    @Vidhyashankar Venkataraman !It was not a beamer,it was a ball that he ducked into,not even that short.Wes Hall and Charlie were firing on all cylinders that day.I,as a schoolboy saw that match at Kensington.,and boy it was from the frying pan(WES ),into the fire(Charlie).

  • pradeep_dealwis on June 8, 2011, 18:05 GMT

    Tables have turned...but you seriously can't compare India with the WI of the 70's, 80's. India has very good batting, but that's it. Bowling is not that good, but then again NO test team has a good bowling attack these days , to be fair. India's a good team , and by because of their home wins, the no.1 team in the world. But NOT a GREAT team.

  • Vijayendra on June 8, 2011, 12:50 GMT

    Well written, except for the fact that it starts to gather stem and ends of a rather abruptly.

  • Rakim on June 8, 2011, 11:10 GMT

    This is amazing. Sachin IS great, only a fool would say he isn't. But he ISN'T the greatest. At least he is below Viv and Don Bradman.

    Anyways, I've always believed comparisons are stupid.

  • on June 8, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    It was a beamer which fell Nari Contractor and not a bouncer.Moreover Ajay Sharma was given ample chance whereas Bhadri didn't have so much of luck

  • on June 7, 2011, 21:07 GMT

    what stood out for me was hayden's reaction.and he winsecure despite the fact that he was wearing a helmet,had more than 50000 people supporting him,playing at home,playing on a covered pitch,facing a west indian attack not as menacing or fast as the earlier ones and was himself a 6 and half feet giant.i wonder how the less fortunate batsmen felt

  • on June 10, 2011, 19:51 GMT

    i had a dream last night that i was watching cricket on tv and ambrose was bowling...

  • Willowarriers on June 9, 2011, 8:22 GMT

    dsig3 -- the LOL is on you. The WI and the present Aussie crop pale in comparison to their predecesors. Yes, India is No. 1 and doesn't need permission from the likes of you to celebrate that fact. Cant stomach that fact? Looking back to to the golden years to say India would have smashed etc doesnt alter the fact that India will kick the but of other cricket sides in the present and now. And thats all that matters. Ambrose or Mcgrath can't come back and bowl for you. Get over it...

  • indiaworldchamps2011 on June 9, 2011, 1:48 GMT

    i wud jus like to think it in another perspective... in those days batsmen had so less protection which made some of the good (not gr8) bowlers look hostile... also the grounds were bigger n bats were not as gud as todays.... today the game is heavily in favour of the batsmen.. i wonder how effective those same bowlers wud have been if they were bowling today.. i dont think dale styne or even zaheer khan of today r any less talented.. its jus that the game has evolved n batsmen do not fear anyone....

  • dsig3 on June 8, 2011, 23:40 GMT

    LOL well I see you are enjoying your countries #1 status Dileep. Just remember though mate, these Indians would be smashed by the West Indies or the Australians in their prime. India may still yet reach those heights but you are not there yet. Best to keep your words humble mate because I have a sneaking suspicion that England will be No.1 in the future.

  • Metman on June 8, 2011, 22:27 GMT

    @Vidhyashankar Venkataraman !It was not a beamer,it was a ball that he ducked into,not even that short.Wes Hall and Charlie were firing on all cylinders that day.I,as a schoolboy saw that match at Kensington.,and boy it was from the frying pan(WES ),into the fire(Charlie).

  • pradeep_dealwis on June 8, 2011, 18:05 GMT

    Tables have turned...but you seriously can't compare India with the WI of the 70's, 80's. India has very good batting, but that's it. Bowling is not that good, but then again NO test team has a good bowling attack these days , to be fair. India's a good team , and by because of their home wins, the no.1 team in the world. But NOT a GREAT team.

  • Vijayendra on June 8, 2011, 12:50 GMT

    Well written, except for the fact that it starts to gather stem and ends of a rather abruptly.

  • Rakim on June 8, 2011, 11:10 GMT

    This is amazing. Sachin IS great, only a fool would say he isn't. But he ISN'T the greatest. At least he is below Viv and Don Bradman.

    Anyways, I've always believed comparisons are stupid.

  • on June 8, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    It was a beamer which fell Nari Contractor and not a bouncer.Moreover Ajay Sharma was given ample chance whereas Bhadri didn't have so much of luck

  • on June 7, 2011, 21:07 GMT

    what stood out for me was hayden's reaction.and he winsecure despite the fact that he was wearing a helmet,had more than 50000 people supporting him,playing at home,playing on a covered pitch,facing a west indian attack not as menacing or fast as the earlier ones and was himself a 6 and half feet giant.i wonder how the less fortunate batsmen felt

  • ian_ghose on June 7, 2011, 19:19 GMT

    Great insight Dileep! To the SF 49ers and Nottingham Forest, I'd also like to add the 'Il Grande Torino' - Torino FC, at one time the cradle of Italian football, but now struggling in the Serie B mid-table. Back to cricket, the proverbial tables have turned...and how!! I strongly feel that the decline that West Indies cricket finds itself in, has a lot to do with its pigheaded and incompetent administrators. One can see the decay right down to the bone, so much so that even the umpires involved in the last 2 games seem unsure of the rules, or have been over-awed into making some very atrocious decisions, most of which have gone against the home team. Wickets which seem to be straight out of the sub-continent, are making it worse for the home team. The likes of Chris Gayle, easily the best amongst players from both teams and Kieron Pollard, are seen cheering from the crowd! Its indeed sad, but I guess even the greatest of empires end up in ruins..

  • on June 7, 2011, 17:09 GMT

    @rakim...if i was in sachin's place..i seriously wudn noe hw to deal with ppl lyk you...because...a batsman...hu has broken almost evry possible baating records...nt js broken...bt shattered!!..and fr a batsmen hu luks so gorgious evry tym he bats n plays dose drives..hu is technically so perfect!! WOULD NT BE CONSIDERED GR8??? pls tel me..wat else he has to do to change da minds of ppl hu beliv dat he is THE GREATEST BATSMAN!!

  • Thesonofg on June 7, 2011, 17:04 GMT

    This not a matter of the tables turning, it is all about politics. The game of cricket has lost its genuine entertainment aspect and is now the purview of 'managers.' So, all kinds of gimmicks have to be introduced to gain the acceptance of the viewing public. In the West Indies, those managing the future of the sport has completely lost it. Believe me, there are people who can play the game but whereas previously the game came first, it is the business angle which takes precedence. Our emphasis therefore has changed and the proverbial cart is now firmly placed before the horse. Until we awake from that dream and right that which was wrested from the purists, the great game of cricket will flounder in the West Indies.

  • on June 7, 2011, 16:41 GMT

    @Rakim, Well, our batting line-up is on par with the Windies of 80's and Australia of early 2000's. Same can't be said for bowling.

  • on June 7, 2011, 16:24 GMT

    @Rakim-I guess ur a Pakistani. So I'm not at all amused by your comment.Dude just few days earlier Viv Richards himself said Sachin is the most wonderful and greatest batsman he has seen.So there is no question about that. For the article,its worth reading.Thank you sir for such an interesting article.

  • Percy_Fender on June 7, 2011, 16:21 GMT

    The inevitable comparison between Sachin and others is there yet again. No prizes for guessing where the comments emerge from.

  • Rakim on June 7, 2011, 14:22 GMT

    Well, you can't put in the same sentence WI legend bowlers and Indian "bowlers". Maybe Pak pace bowling at its peak can be compared to WIndian legends.

    Indian batsmen are good, but you can't say "tables've turned". Who can be compared to Sir Viv (the greatest batsmen ever along with Don)? (And please don't say Sachin. In my humble opinion he lacks what greatest had).

    Regards

  • labaria on June 7, 2011, 14:18 GMT

    This is well written and so true of West Indian cricket.

  • CandidIndian on June 7, 2011, 14:14 GMT

    Actually the cricket system in WI has led to this decline, it wont happen to Aus ,India, England and SA .The present system in Indian cricket has improved a lot if we compare it to the time when Azar was captain,and the reason is they have started following cricketing system of Aus, SA and England.Aussies are no longer dominating but they are not bunnies either like WI have become, still teams have to do lot of effort to win against Aussies , however against WI teams have to do lot of effort if they want to lose that match as this present WI team will provide sufficient chances for the opposition to come back.

  • jmoses on June 7, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    West Indies have produced most wonderful test matches ever when playing at home. Especially test matches against Aussies, India in the 90s have been truly spectacular and breath taking to watch if you are a cricket lover. I wish those days are back. The current side looks a very depleted one as they are not even half as best as in the 80s and 90s

  • CricketChat on June 7, 2011, 12:30 GMT

    WI fast bowling advantage has been evened out, with few, out and out fast bowlers in their ranks since the retirements of Ambrose and Walsh. Batting deficiencies were often compensated by bowlers knocking over the opposition cheaply more often than not. Laws, rules and pitches all conspired to kill fast bowling. With pervasion of ODIs, T20s in modern game, where accuracy and variation is more pertinent than raw pace, I don't see bowlers pushing themselves to their physical limits. WI cricket followers must realize they now compete on even or lower (due to lack of quality spinners) terms against all teams and don't hold advantage in any specific dept. Their media, past players and public should stop living in past glory and compare present team with past legends. In course of time, WI cricket will regain its past glory days.

  • rtom on June 7, 2011, 10:53 GMT

    WE ( rather cricekt needs ) seriously need players like Amrose and Walsh. so much in them to skittle out any opposition. We definityl miss them !!

  • 0rion on June 7, 2011, 10:22 GMT

    Well the Indians did STUN the WI occationally in the 70's. I say stun because the Indians neither had the skill ( to match the WI players shot for shot and ball for ball) nor the funds to really challenge the WI. Then what did they have?. Men with real passion for the sport and a stable board. Thus when 1983 happened they also got attention, and in the current consumerist world it translated to $. Then perseverance paid out i guess.

    Unless the men in the foeld and in the board start to put the game before themselves nothin will improve for the WI. :::::-(

  • moBlue on June 7, 2011, 9:29 GMT

    it is so heartbreaking to watch the once proud-and-mighty WI cricket team now! i grew up in bangalore, IND, in the 70s, never having watched the WI [no TV until 1982] until the world cup in 1983. but by then, as a 14-year old cricket fanatic, i had read viv richards' (ghost-written) autobiography, and worshipped so many WI cricketers that it was not funny! :) that team terrorized the rest of the world in bowling *and* batting! who on earth would want to face roberts, holding, garner and marshall [as only jimmy amarnath for IND did in the WI those days with aplomb!] and then face greenidge, haynes, richards and lloyd at the other end?!? to me, cricket has come a full circle when i see that IND has sent a second-string team to the WI this year - a fact, ironically, in reverse, that used to infuriate me in my teens when the WI did so under kallicharan once (as did AUS) because i never got to see the WI A-team players and because i regarded *that* as a transparent sign of contempt for IND!

  • on June 7, 2011, 8:33 GMT

    During the days of school, college, pocket roads, paddy fields after harvesting, wherever I played Cricket, I always kept one thing in my mind, threaten the batsman, how, run, deliver the bowl with possible extreme pace and in the action of Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, a lethal pace bowler who instill fears in the minds of batsmen…Now…it is hardly sees such a bowler in West Indies line up…still our new generation sharmas & rainas are struggling..Does it shows a bleak future of Indian dominancy after the upcoming farewell of Trimurthy's.

  • Agnihothra on June 7, 2011, 6:42 GMT

    What I remember about Sanjay Manjrekar's Debut test...... First test after the great SMG retired... India 75 allout .... of course S Manjekar injured top-edging a hook and the ball cutting open his eye-brow..

  • Ramesh-IT on June 7, 2011, 5:52 GMT

    Hunger to perform well is the only thing lacking in the WI outfit. If it continues, they can never recover from their current slump.

  • on June 7, 2011, 4:07 GMT

    Well written Dileep. Being a big fan of the WI legacy and a bigger critic of the present Indian team's cockiness, I seriousy hope that WI win the series and teach Sachina & co. a lesson in commitment to the national team. ( Wishfull thinking though)

  • SamAlex2 on June 7, 2011, 3:47 GMT

    hear hear... the WI sports administration has its task cut out. They should do the basics well.. nurture talent using domestic leagues, pay enough money to attract youngsters to cricket... and invest in good sports facilities. Don't just rely on raw talent springing up, as it happened in the past.

  • Sukhboy on June 7, 2011, 3:29 GMT

    hmmmm i want the present indian test team vs 80s west indian test team.. i m sure it will b fascinating contest.... i feel pitty for nari contracter but i would say helmets helped a lot to the present batsmen.. i remember once andy roberts said that the batsmen who have batting averages in 50s might not have even in 40s without helmets... so headsoft to viv, sunil, don like legends who played with proper eqipments and still scored ton of runs..

  • Planetindia on June 7, 2011, 2:58 GMT

    All WI need is good bowling coach like Walsh or Ambrose and Batting coach like Lara who knows the patient and how to handle the pressure. they have a good bowler like Roach or Rampaul and batsman like Bravo, Simmon, Pollard who are so young.

  • denwarlo70 on June 7, 2011, 2:52 GMT

    How true a story. Any Nation could sink to the depths of the current WI team if what Ian Bishop says take place. The seniors and the ones already retired should take up to them as a moral responsibility to nurture and guide the young, up and coming cricketers of their respective teams and the ones in line to hand their boots should also act in the same manner.

  • Woody111 on June 7, 2011, 2:49 GMT

    Nice article Dileep, the resurgence of WI cricket will take far longer than that of Aus. The shear magnitude of the their decline has been staggering; I always remind myself of this when I look at how Aus is going; at least we are still sometimes competitive against the top teams. Hopefully WI can take a great deal from the test win against Pakistan and move forward because the islands of the Carribean need it desperately. They have some honest players; if not champions (eg Sammy, Rampaul) and that's something to build from.

  • Balldinho on June 7, 2011, 2:43 GMT

    The West Indies need to adjust to the current situation and make a CHANGE. The days of 93 miles an hour PLUS bowlers seem to be long gone (Apart from Kemar Roach and Fidel when they are on Song) .... the Pitches are no longer Hard and have good carry, they are Slow and TURNING pitches. They need to give Spinners a good run, got Bishoo now, Shane Shilingford, Sulieman Benn, Anthony Martin. Makes no sense to use 3 seamers on a TURNING pitch. Make changes instead of trying to play off how the past brought success.

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  • Balldinho on June 7, 2011, 2:43 GMT

    The West Indies need to adjust to the current situation and make a CHANGE. The days of 93 miles an hour PLUS bowlers seem to be long gone (Apart from Kemar Roach and Fidel when they are on Song) .... the Pitches are no longer Hard and have good carry, they are Slow and TURNING pitches. They need to give Spinners a good run, got Bishoo now, Shane Shilingford, Sulieman Benn, Anthony Martin. Makes no sense to use 3 seamers on a TURNING pitch. Make changes instead of trying to play off how the past brought success.

  • Woody111 on June 7, 2011, 2:49 GMT

    Nice article Dileep, the resurgence of WI cricket will take far longer than that of Aus. The shear magnitude of the their decline has been staggering; I always remind myself of this when I look at how Aus is going; at least we are still sometimes competitive against the top teams. Hopefully WI can take a great deal from the test win against Pakistan and move forward because the islands of the Carribean need it desperately. They have some honest players; if not champions (eg Sammy, Rampaul) and that's something to build from.

  • denwarlo70 on June 7, 2011, 2:52 GMT

    How true a story. Any Nation could sink to the depths of the current WI team if what Ian Bishop says take place. The seniors and the ones already retired should take up to them as a moral responsibility to nurture and guide the young, up and coming cricketers of their respective teams and the ones in line to hand their boots should also act in the same manner.

  • Planetindia on June 7, 2011, 2:58 GMT

    All WI need is good bowling coach like Walsh or Ambrose and Batting coach like Lara who knows the patient and how to handle the pressure. they have a good bowler like Roach or Rampaul and batsman like Bravo, Simmon, Pollard who are so young.

  • Sukhboy on June 7, 2011, 3:29 GMT

    hmmmm i want the present indian test team vs 80s west indian test team.. i m sure it will b fascinating contest.... i feel pitty for nari contracter but i would say helmets helped a lot to the present batsmen.. i remember once andy roberts said that the batsmen who have batting averages in 50s might not have even in 40s without helmets... so headsoft to viv, sunil, don like legends who played with proper eqipments and still scored ton of runs..

  • SamAlex2 on June 7, 2011, 3:47 GMT

    hear hear... the WI sports administration has its task cut out. They should do the basics well.. nurture talent using domestic leagues, pay enough money to attract youngsters to cricket... and invest in good sports facilities. Don't just rely on raw talent springing up, as it happened in the past.

  • on June 7, 2011, 4:07 GMT

    Well written Dileep. Being a big fan of the WI legacy and a bigger critic of the present Indian team's cockiness, I seriousy hope that WI win the series and teach Sachina & co. a lesson in commitment to the national team. ( Wishfull thinking though)

  • Ramesh-IT on June 7, 2011, 5:52 GMT

    Hunger to perform well is the only thing lacking in the WI outfit. If it continues, they can never recover from their current slump.

  • Agnihothra on June 7, 2011, 6:42 GMT

    What I remember about Sanjay Manjrekar's Debut test...... First test after the great SMG retired... India 75 allout .... of course S Manjekar injured top-edging a hook and the ball cutting open his eye-brow..

  • on June 7, 2011, 8:33 GMT

    During the days of school, college, pocket roads, paddy fields after harvesting, wherever I played Cricket, I always kept one thing in my mind, threaten the batsman, how, run, deliver the bowl with possible extreme pace and in the action of Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, a lethal pace bowler who instill fears in the minds of batsmen…Now…it is hardly sees such a bowler in West Indies line up…still our new generation sharmas & rainas are struggling..Does it shows a bleak future of Indian dominancy after the upcoming farewell of Trimurthy's.