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Test matches (4): West Indies 0, India 1
One-day internationals (5): West Indies 4, India 1
Until the penultimate day, India's tour of the West Indies bore an uncanny resemblance to the previous two: high on expectation but low on productivity. This time, though, they ended it differently, scrapping to a victory that removed several monkeys from Indian backs. It was their first series win in the Caribbean for 35 years, since Sunil Gavaskar's triumphant maiden series, and also their first major triumph outside the subcontinent since they won in England in 1986.
And so India made history - but only just. Two weeks into the tour, after romping to 18 wins in their preceding 24 limited-overs matches, they had fallen to pieces in the one-dayers; halfway through the Test series, having dominated seven of the nine days' play, they were stuck at 0-0; twelve days later they clung on for a draw; and with just a week to go before their return flight, they collapsed in the first innings of the decider. They won largely thanks to one man, their captain Rahul Dravid who, on a dodgy surface, produced two great innings.
Beginning at the opposite end of the expectation spectrum, West Indies took several steps forward. Their one-day success, winning a significant series for the first time in 20 months, promised much for the future, and their Test team added a cladding of steel. Several senior players assumed mantles of leadership, and some exciting prospects emerged as well. But West Indies slipped up at the crunch, losing the series in one reckless session of batting in Jamaica.
They weren't helped by issues that were constantly dragging them back. The friction between the West Indian board and the players over contracts regularly surfaced, reaching breaking-point midway through the Test series. And there was a subsidiary farce: having griped about team composition throughout the series, Lara discovered, on the eve of the final Test, that he had actually been made a selector a month earlier - but he never got the letter, and evidently no one had mentioned it. Furthermore, the pitches hardly favoured West Indian strengths - Lara's remark about the Sabina Park surface appearing to have been prepared for the Indians summed up his frustration.
Nobody was sure of the series result until the last ball was bowled, but the action was not always riveting. Flat pitches, and occasionally flatter bowling, led to a formulaic series, with one team piling up the runs and the other trying to stay alive. Vacant stands, especially in the new venues of St Lucia and St Kitts, added to the dreariness. The football World Cup, most of which coincided with the Test series, was always going to be a major diversion, especially given Trinidad & Tobago's debut appearance. In keeping with the mood of the moment, the cricketers slugged out a hat-trick of draws, then had a shoot-out at Kingston - one that both sides nearly messed up.
The weather often dampened spirits, too. Lara, whose critical pressconference statements were a direct contrast to Dravid's diplomacy, observed after his side was thwarted by the late-June rain in St Kitts: "There is no international cricket in the West Indies in February and March when the sun is out. We lost an entire day in St Lucia, and I don't know why we are playing at this time of the year. It's unfortunate that it's been happening for the last four or five years."
But in the one-day series, West Indies were spurred on by a comment from India's coach Greg Chappell, taken out of context by the media. After they made a hash of defending 251 in the opener in Jamaica, Chappell said: "West Indies have forgotten how to win." Lara later termed this "a sly remark" and said it had galvanised his side to fight back.
Strangely, the Indians - without the injured Sachin Tendulkar - struggled to adapt to conditions that were more subcontinental than traditional Caribbean. On slow pitches, against bowlers with canny changes of pace, they stumbled. India's batsmen, starting the one-dayers on the back of a record 16 successful run-chases, underestimated the bowling, aiming to dismantle it rather than show the respect it deserved. Their fielding dipped alarmingly while West Indies' gradually looked up. The most important factor was probably Dwayne Bravo, so impressive that he was already being tipped as a future captain. He kept surprising India - with four different slower balls, effervescent fifties and electric athleticism.
While they could get away with restrictive tactics in the one-day games, West Indies' bowlers struggled in the Tests. When the conditions were congenial, as in the first innings of the first and last Tests, they dismissed India for 241 and 200, but, in batsmen-friendly conditions in between, conceded a total of 1,769 for 28 wickets. While India's spinners accounted for 43 of the 72 wickets, West Indies had no one to turn to for turn.
That India won only one Test was largely down to their inability to finish games off. Not for the first time, the close catchers let them down, while the batsmen came a cropper when confronted with the moving ball. However, conditions rarely perturb Dravid, who towered over the rest with 496 runs. He had made winning contributions in victories in every country apart from South Africa (where India did not win a Test until December 2006) and New Zealand (where they last won one in 1975-76). In terms of getting his side results, Rahul Dravid is, unarguably, India's greatest-ever batsman.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Jamaica v Indians at Montego Bay, May 16, 2006
Tour Match: Antigua and Barbuda v Indians at St John's, May 30-31, 2006