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As at the end of the tour, the Indian team trudged along the tarmac towards their home-bound aeroplane at Kingston's Norman Manley Airport, they resembled Napoleon's troops on the retreat from Moscow. They were battle-weary and a lot of them were enveloped in plasters and bandages.
The bandages were the campaign ribbons of a controversial and somewhat violent final Test which the West Indies won to prevail 2-1 in a four-Test series.
Following an overwhelming win for the West Indies in the opening contest in Barbados, the second in Trinidad was drawn, with India very much on top. At the same venue, India won the third in a blaze of glory, their triumph being achieved by scoring over 400 runs in the final innings -- a feat that had only one precedent in the history of Test cricket.
Both sides went into the series suffering from a common disadvantage. Only a month earlier, the West Indies had finished a long and exciting tour of Australia during which they had lost the Test series by a humiliating margin. India undertook the West Indies tour directly after a visit to New Zealand.
Undoubtedly, this tour had been less demanding on skill and stamina than the West Indies' campaign in Australia. But it did handicap the Indians in that they had an arduous journey of 62 hours from New Zealand and then went into the first match in the West Indies in little over a day, having had no opportunity to accustom themselves to totally different conditions.
Obviously this was not a vintage Indian side but it is equally true that because of thoughtless planning of the tour, the team was given less scope to do itself justice early on.
They just managed to keep their heads above water in the matches against the Windward and Leeward Islands. Then they were trounced by Barbados and beaten just as severely in the first Test.
It was to the credit of Bedi's leadership that his team came out of the depression and acquitted themselves so well thereafter. It must be said that even during the early days of struggle, Bedi's tactics were constructive and positive.
Indeed the Indians proved very resilient. But it has to be said that three factors helped them to draw level in the series after their rout in Barbados. The first was the withdrawal from the West Indies' ranks of Anderson Roberts after the first two Tests. His tiredness, both mental and physical, compelled the West Indies selectors to give him time to recuperate for the tour of England.
Even more significant, it was to India's advantage that the third Test was switched because of adverse weather from Georgetown's Bourda to the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad, where the Indians both bat and bowl as well as on any of their own grounds. Had the match been played at Bourda, as scheduled, the most likely result would have been a draw.
The whole of the Guyana leg of the tour was washed out. Weeks of almost incessant rain had turned Bourda into a veritable lake and the match against the territory was called off two days before it was due to start. The cancellation of this fixture was a setback to many young Guyanese players set to parade their talents and may have affected the composition of the West Indies touring side to England, as at least two Guyanese were in the list of probables -- Bacchus, a batsman of immense flair, and Persaud, an off-spinner.
Another sad aspect of the cancellation of this match was that it was meant to be Lance Gibbs's final appearance in a first-class match at home and he had, in fact, been honoured with the captaincy.
The third factor that influenced India's comeback was the decision of the West Indies selectors not to include Lance Gibbs, despite his successes in Australia. The policy was part of a long term plan to bring on a successor. Had Gibbs played in either or both of the two Tests in Trinidad, there might have been a different story to tell. The Indians certainly would have found the going harder in chasing a total of 400-plus in the third Test.
Gibbs had stated his intention to retire but had declared his availability for both the series against India and the England tour. In fact, it was a matter close to his heart that he should finish his career with an England tour.
Vivian Richards was the outstanding batsman on either side. He scored 556 runs (av. 92.66). The rich form he had struck in Australia stayed with him and apart from his consistency, Richards batted with the authority of a truly great player. The fourth Test was the only one in which he failed to make a century.
Lloyd was the next most consistent, but he could not reproduce the versatility of his batting against the Indians in the previous series, played only a year before.
Clearly, the West Indies batting on the whole was still trying to rise from the disasters in Australia. Although he played two innings of substance, both of them most valuable, Kallicharran's performance suffered by his own lofty standards. There was no doubt that his powers were limited by the shoulder injury which first manifested itself in Australia and which, later in the year, was to cut short his English tour while he underwent an operation.
Although Holford's spin played a major part in his side's victory in the first Test, the key to the West Indies' success in the series was pace bowling. With Roberts left jaded and off colour by his toils in Australia, the main burden fell on Holding, who carried it with admirable ease.
Although his crowning glory came in the final Test, the result of which he so strongly influenced, Holding's true worth was even more apparent when in the Third Test, he took six wickets in the first innings on a sluggish pitch in Trinidad. This performance stamped him as a great fast bowler.
Inevitably, Gavaskar and Viswanath were the pillars of the Indian batting. Gavaskar, who sustained a bad facial injury in New Zealand, missed the first two matches but found his touch straight away, looking every bit the brilliant player he is. But he could not get himself to concentrate and build a long innings till the Second Test.
Viswanath, having discovered his form in New Zealand, batted effortlessly from the start in the West Indies, although he seemed to have an unfortunate knack of attracting balls that kept unplayably low. Men of short stature both, Gavaskar and Viswanath were happiest batting in Trinidad. Gavaskar, as in 1971, made centuries in both the Test matches there while Viswanath played the match-winning innings in the Third Test.
Patel's talent also furnished in the two Tests in Trinidad but even while making runs, he looked suspect against fast bowling. After repeated early collapses, the Indians experimented with Gaekwad as an opening batsman and Mohinder Amarnath as number three. Gaekwad's height, his dogged determination and sound judgement of direction fitted him for his new role.
In the bloody Kingston Test, he batted a day and a half in the teeth of hostile fast bowling and seemed to have established himself as an opening batsman for a long time to come. But eventually he ducked into a ball that did not rise to the expected height and took a blow which put him in hospital and might well have killed his taste for the assignment.
Although nor equipped with enough skill or technique to bat at number three in a Test side, the younger Amarnath fulfilled India's immediate requirement and even distinguished himself by playing a supporting role over a long period to Gavaskar, Viswanath and Patel while India were shaping their famous win in the Third Test.
More batsmen failed than succeeded on this tour and among those who statistically left no impression was Dilip Vengsarkar, 19-year-old, who was picked before he had played even one whole season of first-class cricket at home.
He obviously lacked the experience to be a force but from the manner in which he coped with the heavy fire during the Jamaica Test, there was evidence of class. He had a safe method of taking evasive action against the bumper and fearlessly drove anything that was pitched up to him.
The tour would seem, sadly, to have marked the end of Solkar's career at international level. His inability to make runs was no new experience but he had so far kept his place for his amazing gifts as a short-leg fieldsman, gifts that contributed so much to the effectiveness of India's spinners. Yet, even in this direction, Solkar faded out after taking two blows on the head, the first in New Zealand and another in the opening match of the tour, in St. Vincent.
The last series between the two sides having been played only a year before, the West Indies batsmen were familiar with the Indian spin attack. Still, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan asked searching questions of them.
Chandrasekhar and Bedi were the leading wicket-takers, with 21 and 18 victims. Venkataraghavan had only seven, a figure that conceals the fact that he suffered most of all in the matter of dropped catches and that he was close to bowling India to victory in the Second Test.
The recurring problem of having to pick either Prasanna or Venkataraghavan for Test matches was solved when the latter broke down during the First Test. He did not play again till the match before the final Test, against Jamaica.
He bowled in this game with such skill on a good wicket that the old question was posed again. But after the manner in which Venkataraghavan had bowled in the previous Test, it would have been unjust to omit him.
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