From eulogies to obituaries

It was a series that began with eulogies and ended in obituaries. Every tour has its own distinctive flavour, and there's no doubt the India-West Indies series brought to the fore, the best, the worst and often even what's most ordinary about the two sides. And that's why it provided so many moments that will be remembered for a while to come.

But let us begin with all those things it promised and did not provide. When the team left India's shores for the Caribbean, hopes of fans, journos and players themselves, were higher than they have ever been in the recent past. The tour represented India's best chance of that long elusive series win outside the subcontinent. The West Indies were reportedly at their weakest and on top of it, the pitches on which an upbeat Indian team would play, were not expected to be frighteningly quick.

Well, the latter proved to be certainly true. Apart from the first day of the Barbados Test, where India were bundled out for a paltry 102, there was really little life in the wickets for the rest of the tour. Guyana and Antigua served up surfaces that would have been better used with bowling machines dishing out the fodder to batsmen. Thankfully, the remaining three Tests made for gripping contests between well matched, if not strong sides.


The Indian overseas Test series win was not to be. Not with the bowlers and batsmen rarely firing together. When the batting got its act together, which it did not do at crucial moments, the bowling dragged its feet. At Port of Spain, Trinidad, a traditional happy hunting ground for the Indians, the hopes of a series win were raised to unbelievable levels by their 37-run win. The architect of that triumph, VVS Laxman, had almost missed the trip to the West Indies.
From 1-0 up, however, it was all downhill. The Indian debacle at Barbados leveled the series. Once again, the Guyanese pair of Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul made life extremely difficult for the tourists. Although Hooper gave umpteen chances which the Indians never managed to latch on to, and subsequently paid dearly for, the same certainly wasn't true of Chanderpaul.


He clearly likes the bowling attacks that the land of his forefathers sends out to take him on. Four of Chanderpaul's five Test centuries have come against India. Just as another left-hander Andy Flower, who seems to have made it his mission to use series' against India as a way of boosting an already healthy average, Chanderpaul simply refuses to lose his wicket to the Indians. In 11 Tests against his favourite opposition, Chanderpaul now averages more than 92, and over 1000 runs have flowed off his blade.
Back this up with the dogged bowling effort that Merv Dillon put in, sending down more than 220 overs to scalp 23 wickets and you have a recipe for success. Yet, it's not quite that simple. There were several others who played a key part - Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds with the starts they gave the team, Adam Sanford, by constantly chipping in with key wickets, and Cameron Cuffy, by squeezing the life out of the Indians with his strangling bowling.

As for the tourists, many of them too will remember the tour fondly. Laxman and Rahul Dravid both scored more than 400 runs in the Test series. Ganguly found some much needed batting form and the left-arm seamers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra underscored their emergence as frontline bowlers.

Then there's the bizarre yet unforgettable Anil Kumble sequence of events. India's greatest matchwinner with the ball in recent times found himself warming the bench for two Tests before getting a look in. Just as soon as he did, the Karnataka leggie was felled by a Dillon bouncer. And remarkably, stunning everyone, Kumble returned with a broken jaw, all strapped up, to dismiss Lara. Visually, that is something that is not going to go away for a long time.


And neither will the disappointment of not seeing the world's finest batsmen at their peak. The hyped up Lara v Tendulkar contest never got going. Now, fans from both the countries are usually sporting enough to enjoy a good batting performance whoever it comes from. Sadly for them, that magical flash of the bat, high back lift and elaborate follow through was conspicuously absent from the Lara matchplay. Although Tendulkar reminded us of his brilliance with a sparkling second innings 82 in a losing cause in the final Test, that one innings was never going to be enough to satiate fans hungry for more.
The conversations at bars, the steady flow of former cricketers' opinions on who was better, the mutually appreciative interviews of the men in question, the expert columns highlighting the contest, the eulogies - all were in vain.

But no, the obituaries were not.

The death, in the space of two days, of Subhash Gupte, legendary Indian leg-spinner and Hansie Cronje, once South Africa's best loved cricketer, caused more than a few waves. As characters in cricket theatre they could not have been more different. By all accounts Gupte was a jovial, outgoing man, enjoying a post-match beer with the opposition as much as he did spinning them out. Everyone who knew him had a few kind words to say.

With Cronje, it was not quite as cut and dried. He did, after all, let the whole of South Africa down when he admitted to receiving money from bookies to fix matches. Or at least certain events in them. He was disgraced, dethroned and exiled in his own country. And yet, his tragic death at 32 has brought in tributes from the most unexpected quarters.

One is reminded of that poignant scene from William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." At Caesar's funeral, Mark Antony says, "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar."

So it has been with Cronje, for better or for worse.