Like most Indian fans that winter, I was disappointed to read the West Indian line-up. I did not recognise most of the names in Kallicharran's party. The captain, Vanburn Holder, and Raphick Jumadeen were certainly familiar enough, but who were Norbert Phillip, David Murray, Sylvester Clarke, Malcolm Marshall, Larry Gomes et al? There was a Greenidge in there too, but he wasn't the right one. Still, Tests were Tests, and paying attention to Test cricket in the winter was the only sensible thing to do. There were no live telecasts that year, except from Delhi, so radio commentary would have to do.
The West Indians set the template for the Australians, who would follow a year later. Like them the West Indians proved to be no pushovers; they lost 0-1 in a six-Test series, one admittedly affected by poor weather and the usual slow Indian pitches (and in one case, in Bangalore, political unrest!). Interestingly enough, the only result of the series came at the fastest pitch in India then, at Chepauk.
The West Indian pace attack proved to be in capable hands, even if they were neutered for most of the time by the surfaces they bowled on. The first Test was a captain's game. India put on 424 in their first innings, a total reliant on Sunil Gavaskar's 205; this was countered by the West Indies' 493, which in turn was built on the back of Kallicharran's 187. Too much playing time, though, had been lost for any possibility of a result.
In the second Test West Indies again put on a 400-plus score, and this time squeezed out a 66-run lead. The Indian innings saw a stunning dismissal: Gavaskar, gone for a duck off the first ball, caught at gully off Clarke. The batsmen who Clarke would later intimidate while playing for Surrey would have been sympathetic: the ball that dismissed Gavaskar climbed on him even as he fended it off to gully. West Indies didn't do so well in the second innings, losing eight wickets for 200 to set up a fascinating final day. But bizarrely, the final day's play was called off: Indira Gandhi had just been arrested, and with strikes and demonstrations called for in the city, the local police took the extraordinary step of "asking" the state association to cancel the cricket. In the annals of abandonment, this ranks right up there.
West Indies stayed on par in the third Test till the Indian second innings; indeed, they took a 27-run lead. But Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar's 344-run partnership for the second wicket took the game away from them; the pair ensured that the Indian second innings moved along at a fair clip, and allowed a declaration late on the fourth day. It is worth noting two facts about this effort: India scored at almost four runs an over, and Gavaskar declared with India 334 runs ahead, setting West Indies an eminently gettable target. West Indies' scores in the series till then had been 493, 437, 200 for 8, and 327, so Gavaskar certainly had reason to respect their batting. Still, his gamble almost worked: the West Indians barely escaped.
"Like Kim Hughes' Australians, Kallicharran's outfit was soon disbanded once the world's cricket boards made their peace with Kerry Packer, and many of his tourists returned to relative obscurity"
The game ended with the score at 197 for 9 but just as memorable were the circumstances. Light fades early in the Indian east, a feature only to be expected in a country so large with just one time zone. As it did, and as West Indian wickets fell, the appeals for bad light began. Sew Shivnarine approached the umpires perhaps half a dozen times, only to be rebuffed each time. Exasperated, he offered his bat to them, and suggested they try their hand at batting. Persistence pays; the umpires finally accepted his appeal, and the game was over. A riveting finish, even if only heard on the radio.
Ironically West Indies came closest to a win in the one Test they lost, which was played at Chepauk, India's fastest and bounciest pitch. Batsmen on both sides hopped, bruises and blows were handed out, and wickets fell regularly. It was a Test that cemented G Viswanath's reputation as a great player of fast bowling and India's crisis man: his 124 in India's first innings of 255 ensured India took a precious 27-run lead, one whose value became even more apparent when India lost seven wickets chasing 125. Indeed, at one stage they were 84 for 6 before a quick 26 from Kapil Dev took them over the line.
The last two Tests were rather dull draws and the series petered out; even die-hard fans of Test cricket had to admit that six Tests were one too many, especially when played on largely lifeless pitches.
Like Hughes' Australians, Kallicharran's outfit was soon disbanded once the world's cricket boards made their peace with Kerry Packer, and many of his tourists returned to relative obscurity. But some of them made their way into the most fearsome outfit of all time: Clive Lloyd's all-conquering 1980s all-stars.
And none among them would stand out more than Marshall. On his first tour, his action was still not fully developed; he had not hit full pace just yet. Hints of his promise were visible in the tour games, but in the Tests he struggled to make a mark; maturity as a strike bowler would take some time. As he would note in his autobiography, this was a hard and contentious tour for him and he looked forward to taking "revenge" on the Indians. And he did, in ample measure.
West Indies were, like the Australians, just a bit outgunned. But like them, they went home with their heads held high. They were inexperienced and in unfamiliar conditions, and had held their own. Indian fans might have been disappointed that a star outfit did not show up, but at least they were not subjected to abject surrender. If only the weather gods and the groundsmen had cooperated.