Sailing by banana boat to face the Three Ws
GS Ramchand, one of India's first genuine allrounders, played in India's first-ever tour of the West Indies, in 1952-53. He shares some of his memories with Cricinfo
India's 1952-53 tour of West Indies was their first to that part of the world. The team left by flight for London from where we took a boat to Barbados. It was a banana boat, a small cargo vessel that carried bananas from Barbados to the UK. Most of the players were sick because of the high seas and the rough weather.
The matches in those days were restricted to four centres - Trinidad, British Guiana (now Guyana), Barbados and Jamaica. We had two or three weeks in each place during which we played a colony game and a Test. The tour itself lasted about two-and-a-half months.
Only Barbados, Jamaica and British Guiana had turf wickets. Trinidad had jute matting, on which we played the first and third Tests. Barring a few players, most of our touring party had little experience playing on matting, which is a completely different ball-game as opposed to playing on turf. Fortunately for us, West Indies had only one genuine quick bowler in Frank King.
It was imperative for us to post big totals if we had to match the might of the Three Ws - Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. We ended up with honourable draws in four of the five Tests. In fact, I believe that the only one we lost - the second Test in Barbados - was perfectly winnable. Set a target of 272, we were 54 for 2 at close of play on the fourth day with [opener] Pankaj Roy unbeaten on 9 - I was with him, on 31. The next morning we took the score to 70 when [slow left-arm bowler] Alf Valentine dismissed Roy. The overnight cracks on the wicket had got much wider and Sonny Ramadhin exploited it with his mixture of off- and legspin. He dropped his pace but pushed the odd delivery to hit the batsmen at ankle-height. India collapsed to 129 all out and Ramadhin ended with 5 for 26 in 24.5 overs. He was sorted out later in the series, and was in fact dropped for the final Test, though he and Valentine were the main bowlers for West Indies.
In contrast to Ramadhin, our legspinner Subhash Gupte did very well on that tour. He got 27 of the 62 wickets that we picked up in the series. What made Gupte so effective was that he deceived batsmen with his flight, and had a good wrong'un. He got fine support at the other end from Vinoo Mankad, and the two of them were backed up by brilliant fielding. It was said that the 1952-53 team was the best Indian fielding side to visit the West Indies, with JM Ghorpade, CV Gadkari, Polly Umrigar, DK Gaekwad, Madhav Apte and myself.
If there was anything we lacked, it was strong and aggressive captaincy. Vijay Hazare was a great batsman and an unassuming person, but his personality did not infuse confidence in the side. There was no planning, no team meetings or discussions of tactics. He did everything in a mechanical fashion and had confidence in only two bowlers - Gupte and Mankad. There was no fixed batting order. There was no planning, no thought as to which bowler should bowl to which batsmen. Someone like Dattu Phadkar, the allrounder, could have made a difference had he led the team. He had the courage, the will and the stomach to take chances and his body language reflected that.
Bowling to the Three Ws was no joke. They were merciless. You got one out and another W emerged. Our only hope was to keep them relatively quiet. Gupte and Mankad both bowled their hearts out; Gupte bowled 65 overs and Mankad 82 in the first innings of the final Test, in which all the Three Ws got hundreds.
It was a terrific series for Weekes. He got 207 in the first Test, and followed that up with scores of 47, 15, 161, 55 not out, 86, 109 and 36. Weekes did not spare us in the colony game against Barbados: he got 253. Walcott got 98 in the second Test, 125 in the fourth and 118 in the final Test. Worrell was grace personified, he would bat superbly for 30 or 40 runs and invariably got out to a marvellous catch. We used to tell Frank: "The other two Ws are murdering us, why don't you get some runs?"
He would reply: "Don't worry, it will come soon." And it did, in the final Test, where he got 237.
Gupte commanded greater respect than Vinoo. To this generation, I would say that Gupte was as good as Shane Warne. Of the Indian batsmen, Polly Umrigar got 130 in the first Test and 117 in the fifth. Polly was a great hitter who could send the ball high over the boundary, but he was put to shade by the brilliance of the Three Ws. Madhav Apte got an unbeaten 163 in the third Test, but it was a laboured and chancy innings lasting over two days.
This was the tour in which we had our first glimpse of a talented youngster. He got three wickets and 30-odd runs when we played against Barbados. His name: Garry Sobers.
GS Ramchand was speaking to H Natarajan. This article first appeared on wisden.com in 2002.