November 1, 2011

Those majestic West Indians

They pulverised India on tours here, but the home fans loved them regardless because of the way they played the game

Fire in Babylon. Think what you will of Stevan Riley's work, but until it came along, it was difficult to explain to younger fans just how good West Indies once were without coming across as one of those obnoxious cricket-was-better-in-my-time types.

I got my first clues as a nine-year-old in that rubicon year for Indian cricket, 1983. As we played outside, my uncle listened to the World Cup final on the radio. Even when West Indies were 66 for 5, and 126 for 9, he refused to believe that it was over. When it was, the predominant emotion appeared to be disbelief. How could it have happened? How could a team with the batting of Greenidge, Haynes, Richards and Lloyd and the bowling of that quartet possibly lose?

A few months later, Lloyd's team came to India with retribution very much the name of the game. There was no Garner, and a fading Roberts played only the final two Tests, but the personnel available were more than adequate to emphatically underline the huge gulf between the two sides. My grandfather's letters spoke of the bravery with which Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar batted, and of pace bowling of a ferocity that India hadn't seen before.

Make no mistake, Indian pitches then were as batsman-friendly as they are now. But instead of whining, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel just took the conditions out of the equation. West Indies won two of the six Tests by an innings and a third by 138 runs. Marshall took 33 wickets, Holding 30. Daniel, who'd probably have played 100 Tests if born elsewhere, finished with 14 from three Tests. They didn't lose a game all tour.

A cousin who wangled a pass to get into the Kotla on the eve of the second Test recalled watching Marshall and Holding in the nets. Spooked by the experience, he went up to Madan Lal and asked what India would do if there was a bouncer barrage the following day. Perhaps recalling that famous June day at Lord's a few months earlier, Madan Lal puffed out his chest and said: "Agar woh bouncer dalenge, toh hum bhi bouncer dalenge [If they bowl bouncers, so will we]."

There were two blackwashes of England, best remembered for grisly photographs of Mike Gatting's nose and Marshall bowling with his arm in plaster in Leeds, before West Indies returned to India four years later. By then, their relentless dominance had begun to polarise opinion.

For some impressionable kids like me, they were the players you wanted to be. You dreamt of batting with that panache and exuberance, of bowling with that pace and fielding with such nonchalance and agility. Others who had followed the game far longer, like David Frith, reckoned that intimidation by pace made a mockery of cricket.

In India, though, they remained hugely popular. In the first 33 Tests that they played in the country over nearly 40 years, they won 13 and lost just three. One of those Indian wins was in 1979, against a team decimated by defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket.

Back then, seeing West Indies play was as good as it got, bamboo scaffolding or not. Now, you'll be lucky to see 50,000 people over the three Tests. Sporting dominance is cyclical, but West Indies have been in the doldrums so long that the glory days of the 1980s seems like another life

Though they routinely made India look second-rate, West Indies were most people's second team here, playing a brand of cricket that was irresistible. Gavaskar named his son after Rohan Kanhai, of the falling sweep shot, and no trip to Chepauk is complete without stories from someone who watched Sobers or Hall in their prime.

By 1987-88, an era had passed. Marshall was unavailable, while Garner and Holding had followed Roberts into retirement. Walsh, Patterson and Davis didn't have the same ring to it, even though they were good enough to skittle India for 75 on the opening day of the series.

That was a truly remarkable Test. India responded by bowling West Indies out for 127, and Vengsarkar's century then put them in control. West Indies needed 276, the sort of target that had never been chased down in Indian conditions. But Richards smashed 109 from just 111 balls and West Indies did just that, showing the sort of self-belief that had made a mockery of a huge final-day chase at Lord's in 1984.

Narendra Hirwani ambushed them on an underprepared Chepauk pitch, and West Indian anger was given full expression in the one-day games that remained. They played eight in all, including one in Ahmedabad for the BCCI's Benevolent Fund. They won seven.

The last game of the tour was at the University Stadium in Trivandrum. My grandfather was 73 at the time, and had watched Lala Amarnath score a century against Douglas Jardine's Englishmen more than half a century earlier. He was determined to see the modern-day titans, and so we went - ten-hour train ride, hours in a queue, packed lunches and all.

The facilities were rudimentary, to put it charitably. We were fortunate enough to get some seats on stone steps. Others perched precariously atop makeshift bamboo galleries that would be considered safety hazards now.

India piled up 239 in 45 overs. By the run rates of the time, it was worth 350 now. Srikkanth's swashbuckling 101 had the fans in raptures, though there were also plenty of cheers when Richards had Ravi Shastri - leading the side, but a magnet for crowd displeasure wherever he went in India - stumped.

After lunch we settled down for what we assumed would be a gripping chase. Instead Greenidge and Phil Simmons - Lendl's uncle - walloped 164 for the first wicket. They won with 13 balls and nine wickets to spare. Richards, idol of idols, didn't even need to bat. I cursed quietly most of the way home.

Back then, seeing West Indies play was as good as it got, bamboo scaffolding or not. Now you'll be lucky to see 50,000 people over the three Tests. Sporting dominance is cyclical, but West Indies have been in the doldrums so long that the glory days of the 1980s seem like another life.

This, their first tour to India in nine years, could be a bridge too far for a callow side, but win or lose, I hope they play the game the right way. Their predecessors weren't just the best team I've ever seen. They had majesty and a spirit that made you want to play. Perhaps that's what greatness really is.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Valavan on November 3, 2011, 8:41 GMT

    @Amit chatterjee, interesting point that you say current indian batters will take care of windies greats of 80s, oh ye the same way Bresnan,Broad,Anderson and tremlett took care of your starstudded batters back in England this summer. Sunil Gavaskar played the most venomous bowlers, has hit many centuries in WI in prime, ofcourse against star bowlers of aussies,we did see how gautam gambhir, suresh raina, yuvraj singh, VVS playing out of subcontinent. Sore truth is that. cricinfo please publish

  • Mick on November 3, 2011, 5:44 GMT

    @serious-am-i: Be assured the legendary Windies sides were well known for a well-placed sledge here or there. All power to them. All part of the battle.

  • S on November 3, 2011, 0:32 GMT

    Nice article. Couple of relevant points. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, wins by touring teams in India were worth twice what they are today because of the abysmal quality of home-grown umpiring. Almost every other bat-pad catch appeal would be upheld against visiting teams - or so it seemed. In that context, what the Windies pulled off was remarkable - as was what Tony Greig did in the mid-1970s when he led a team to India and whipped us 3-1. English teams of today would do well to go back and look at those tapes to see how he did it. I hate to disagree with the great Vivian Richards - but I think he errs when he describes Madan Lal as the world's fastest off-spinner. I am sure there's many an offie who was quicker than good old Madan Lal ;)

  • Krishnan on November 2, 2011, 20:10 GMT

    Raghavaraju Dutta and Gerry the Merry are right regarding the wickets prepared during the 1983 tour. Ahmedabad and Kanpur were dodgy. However, the win on a docile Calcutta pitch was very credible. I also think 1979 to 1995 is a long period and there was not a single team then. So we need to break things down. In terms of sheer talent and completeness, I think the 1979 team which beat Australia 2-0 was the best. In terms of professionalism and killer instinct, the teams in 1984 and 1985 had this in greater abundance. There was a slight lull from 1987 to 1988 as Holding and Garner retired before things picked up again with the introduction of Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh. However, the batting in the late 1980s and eraly 1990s could not compare with that in the late 1970s and early 1980s. So, we need to be more nuanced in our analysis here.

  • Dummy4 on November 2, 2011, 19:51 GMT

    Very good article, its a pity to see the Windies team play like Kenyans. I am sure our present lot of test batsmen would had taken good care of the windies 80's bowlers. This test series will be waste of time, windies will be pasted desi style like ginger garlic.

  • Paddy on November 2, 2011, 19:02 GMT

    Clive Lloyd's WI were a great team, no doubt. But the author's examples to justify their greatness is poor.

    To do justice, he must look to the WI tours of England, Viv's two massive double 100's, WI defeating England 5-0 later in England. WI winning 4-0 in Australia.

    WI dominating the one-day format from 1975 until 84-85 (even after losing to India at the WC).

    Flowery writing is all very good, but it is also important to know your cricket, and the author does not come across as knowing much.

  • alfanso on November 2, 2011, 17:54 GMT

    Great article, I can very much identify with the writer and the Indian fans. Even though I am a West Indian I apperciate and cheer for great cricketers who play tough, exciting cricket. Hence I have always looked forward to see Sachin, S. Pollock, Adam Gilchrist, Waquar, Vensarkar, Armanath,Gavaskar, Kapil, Imran, Gower, Hadlee. And even when these guys did well against the West Indies it was pleasure for me to see good cricket. In terms of great teams I think the West Indies team from the late 70s to the late 80s was the greatest cricket team ever. What many of us overlook is how good the other teams were because the W.I. team was so dominating. I think that era of cricket ( including Packer series) saw some of the most competitive cricket ever, but many of us who lived it could not tell because of the awesome men lead by Lloyd and Viv.

  • Milind on November 2, 2011, 17:03 GMT

    I hope WI get back to their glory days...well maybe not that invincible, but certainly they become good enough to be one of the top four teams of the current era!

  • Krishnaswami on November 2, 2011, 15:04 GMT

    If there is one thing that I want cricket to get back, then I will prefer getting Westindies cricket in full glory. I am yet to come across one Indian fan who will NOT praise that glory past of windies. We all know we got beaten badly. Yet, that fantastic performers were always admired, respected with awe and praised. We used to listen to BBC and ABC even when windies were playing england and Australia in those countries. Such was the respect for the great Windies cricketers. I want them back. Cricket is boring without them.

  • GV on November 2, 2011, 13:47 GMT

    After 20 years, i feel that the 80s Windies will still be talked about more than the 2000 Aussies.

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