Amit Varma and Utpal Shuvro
How absurd it would have been, two decades ago, to imagine that West Indies could be relieved to lose a three-Test series against India 2-0. Yet that is how it was. Their decline of the 1990s had accelerated into an alarming freefall. Of their last 27 overseas Tests, West Indies had lost 23, and they had just suffered a humiliating home defeat by New Zealand. In India, they began with more of the same, as they were drubbed in the first two Tests. But they salvaged some pride at Kolkata, where they might have won until Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman saved the day, fought back to take the one-day series, and of course gained predictable consolation afterwards on their first tour of Bangladesh.
In India, West Indies remained stuck in a vicious circle: every loss eroded their self-belief, and their lack of self-belief kept losing them games. The first two Tests were from a familiar template. They were diffident and lacklustre on the field; their batsmen threw away starts; their bowlers never believed they could get wickets. Carl Hooper was a square peg in a deep round hole - the calm and composed captain of a team which really needed an inspirational leader who could lift them to play, if not above themselves, at least to their potential. Hooper summed up their despair after the Second Test: "It's a shame that we've come to this level."
How far could they fall? Viv Richards, the chairman of selectors, didn't want to find out. In their first bold move, West Indies became the first team to enter a Test at Kolkata without a specialist spinner. Jermaine Lawson and Darren Powell, raw pacemen both, joined journeymen Mervyn Dillon and Cameron Cuffy to form, once again, a West Indian pace quartet. They were backing their strengths.
West Indies played like a team rejuvenated. The batsmen applied themselves, the bowlers bent their backs, the fielders threw themselves around, and actually believed it mattered. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, their most consistent batsman throughout, was rewarded with a big hundred. At times - when Lawson and Powell were humming, or Marlon Samuels stroking the ball around with disdainful ease - West Indian cricket again seemed worthy of a calypso, not a dirge.
The tourists carried their new confidence into the one-day series, which was played on flat tracks that were dream pitches for the stick-front-footout- and-thwack school of batsmanship. The average first-innings score was 285, yet the side chasing won the first six matches before Samuels played one of the great one-day innings to win the decider.
West Indies were without Brian Lara, suffering from a mysterious illness contracted in Sri Lanka. Hooper also pulled out of the Bangladesh leg, so he could have surgery on a troublesome knee before the World Cup, as did their most experienced fast bowler Mervyn Dillon. Ridley Jacobs led the team.
India's success did little to solve the central mystery of Indian cricket: the difference between the team's home and away form. The opening combination of Virender Sehwag and Sanjay Bangar averaged 78 here, but only seven in New Zealand a few weeks later. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble initially seemed a world-class spin duo, collecting 36 Test wickets between them, but their ineffectiveness at Kolkata underscored their reliance on favourable conditions.
The Test pitches presented a different problem. The Indian board had embarked on a long-awaited programme to re-lay its main pitches to make them more competitive. But the cure merely aggravated the symptoms. These were worse than the originals, which had staged the enthralling Tests between India and Australia in 2000-01. The board stated that they needed time to settle in, and deserved the benefit of the doubt.
The umpiring was awful. It was shocking to see two of the best umpires in the game, David Shepherd and Asoka de Silva, make a slew of mistakes. This did not reflect on their abilities or intent, but on the insanely crowded schedule of the ICC's elite panel of umpires - in its first year, the elite eight were each scheduled to stand in an average of 80 days of international cricket.
The one-day series drew large crowds, most there for the revelry more than the cricket. The first three one-day internationals were all interrupted by crowd trouble, and the third had to be called off early; controversially, the game was awarded to India on Duckworth/Lewis calculations. Politics ensured that no action was taken against the venues - the host associations were part of the powerbase maintained by Jagmohan Dalmiya, the board president, and the ICC had too many battles on its hands to take on another.
Bangladesh provided West Indies with their first Test series win in the subcontinent for eight years. It also produced happy memories for Ramnaresh Sarwan, who finally hit maiden hundreds in both one-day internationals and Tests, and for Lawson, who seized six wickets in 15 balls to inflict on Bangladesh their biggest Test defeat yet.
Match reports for
Match reports for
Tour Match: Indian Board President's XI v West Indians at Bengaluru, Oct 4-6, 2002
Tour Match: Railways v West Indians at Pune, Oct 24-26, 2002