India had great, and realistic, expectations that their eighth tour of the Caribbean would allow them to break their wretched overseas record; they had not won a Test series outside the subcontinent since 1986 in England. They possessed a well-balanced team: Sachin Tendulkar remained the premier batsman of the day, supported by Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Shiv Sunder Das, all with Test averages above 40, and the exciting, if unpredictable, V. V. S. Laxman. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were two contrasting spinners maintaining a rich Indian tradition; Javagal Srinath was the second most successful fast bowler in their history.
In contrast, West Indies were going through difficult times. They had just been whitewashed in three Tests by Sri Lanka and two by Pakistan. Their main batsman, Brian Lara, had not played any cricket since fracturing his elbow in Sri Lanka four months earlier. Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were no longer around to harass batsmen with their probing accuracy, and their replacements were mostly raw and untried.
When India took the lead with a hard-fought victory in the Second Test, at Port-of-Spain - the scene of their only two previous wins in the Caribbean - it seemed their optimism was not misplaced. But it did not take into account either their own antipathy towards the faster, bouncier pitches they would encounter in Barbados and Jamaica, or West Indies' lingering resilience at home.
After their defeat, the West Indians quickly regained the psychological edge when their limited attack bowled India out for 102 on the first day at Kensington Oval, in Barbados, and Ganguly could not retrieve it. West Indies levelled the series, winning by ten wickets within four days, their seventh victory in eight Tests between the teams on the ground. They outscored India in a high-scoring draw in Antigua and confirmed their superiority by clinching the series in Jamaica.
The most surprising and disappointing aspect of the series was that Tendulkar and Lara were both below their best. Tendulkar's 117 in the Second Test was more grafting than domineering; his 79 in the First and 86 in the last were more authentic. In between, he had three ducks (fourth, second and first balls) and an eight. Lara, hindered by immobility in his elbow, never gave a glimpse of the breathtaking form he had displayed in Sri Lanka.
Although almost every West Indian made a contribution, there were three stars. The captain, Carl Hooper, made 579 runs in the series, the first time he had passed 400 in a 14-year career; finally, he showed the hunger he had always been accused of lacking. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was just as prolific and even more single-minded: between Port-of-Spain and Kingston, he batted for 25 hours 13 minutes without being dismissed, a Test record. Merv Dillon recovered from an indifferent start to take 23 wickets and trouble the Indians with his aggression. Among the supporting cast, Ramnaresh Sarwan continued to establish himself at No. 3, although he had a knack for getting himself out when well set. Wavell Hinds and the wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs both responded to their omissions from the early Tests with hundreds.
Dillon had support from Cameron Cuffy, whose 17 wickets cost only 22 runs each, while he conceded under two an over; the left-armer Pedro Collins, who dismissed Tendulkar in each of his three Tests; and a new medium-fast seamer, Adam Sanford. Born in Dominica but employed as a policeman in Antigua, Sanford was the first West Indies cricketer to be a direct descendant of the Caribs, the race which gave the region its name.
Although Laxman and Dravid aggregated over 400 and Ganguly and Tendulkar over 300 for India, there was virtually nothing above or below them in the batting line-up. Das and his three different opening partners managed one opening stand better than 19. The only hint of a wagging tail came in the run-glut in Antigua, where Ajay Ratra became the youngest wicket-keeper to score a Test hundred, aged 20 years 150 days.
The strain of bowling 212 overs, more than any of his team-mates, took its toll on Srinath. A spent force by the end of the series, he announced his retirement from Test cricket. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, two lively left-arm swing bowlers, showed definite promise and, with Srinath, took the critical wickets in the Port-of-Spain triumph. But they could not carry the attack on their own. Kumble and Harbhajan were not paired in any Test and, just as Kumble looked to be finding his best form, his tour ended; his jaw was broken while he was batting during the Fourth Test, though he emerged, head in bandages, to bowl 14 overs against doctor's orders.
India did have the satisfaction of taking the subsequent one-day series 2-1, after the first two matches were lost to Jamaica's unusually wet weather. But it was scant consolation for their continuing disappointments at Test level.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Guyana Board President's XI v Indians at Georgetown, Apr 5-7, 2002
Tour Match: Busta Cup XI v Indians at Gros Islet, Apr 26-28, 2002