Can it be said that the Indian victory in the first Test by an innings and 112 runs in about three and a half days is a trendsetter for the series? From the West Indian point of view, one fears it could well be. There was little in their showing at the Wankhede stadium to suggest that they could avoid an Indian clean sweep in the three-match series, let alone turn things around.
The 1978-79 side, bereft as it was of the Packer stars, still had a few things going for them. They had a batsman (Bacchus) capable of battling it out for 8-1/2 hours to score 250 and another (Kallicharran) capable of hitting 187. The captain scored 538 runs in the series while Sylvester Clarke got 21 wickets. The side took the first innings lead in three successive Tests, avoided defeat in five of the six Tests and notched up totals of 493, 437, 327 and 452 for eight.
One cannot see any player in the current side notch up figures even half as impressive (considering it is a three-Test series). It is also highly improbable that Carl Hooper's squad will avoid defeats in the remaining two Tests. Already, there are visions of a repeat of the whitewash the Indians inflicted on England in 1992-93 and Sri Lanka the following season and not without reason.
One does not wish to be over critical of this West Indian side that has severe limitations. The fact that this is West Indies' 24th loss in 28 away Tests in the last five years is a tell-tale sign of how they have flopped repeatedly while playing outside the Caribbean islands. In the sub-continent, in particular, the West Indies have an abysmal record, having lost all three Tests to Pakistan in 1997 and then having suffered a similar loss in Sri Lanka last year. Now they seem clearly headed for another such humiliating rout in India.
Indian spinners have always done well against the West Indies. From Subash Gupte in the fifties to the spin quartet in the sixties and seventies, from a 19-year-old debutant leg spinner in Narendra Hirwani in the eighties to Anil Kumble and Venkatpathi Raju in the nineties, the best of the West Indian batsmen have faltered against Indian spin. Given this background, it is perhaps too much to expect the current West Indian side to get the better of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
Even when they are on the attack, the batsmen look vulnerable. They do not give the impression of having the bowling at their mercy like a Clive Lloyd or Vivian Richards did. For example, even when Wavell Hinds was going hammer and tongs at the bowling in the second innings, it always looked like his tenure at the crease would be cut short and sure enough, he was foxed by Harbhajan.
This side obviously depends heavily on Hooper and Chanderpaul. The rest of the batsmen look good enough for 30s and 40s and that is not enough to deter the Indians. Moreover, Kumble and Harbhajan have already got a psychological hold over the visiting batsmen and they are not bowlers who will let the advantage slip.
Which is indeed what the Indian team itself will have to do. The home side is infinitely stronger in all departments and it is important that a sense of complacency does not creep in. If the bowlers have the West Indian batsmen in a stranglehold, the batsmen have also won the psychological battle.
To complete the lamentable picture, the West Indians cut a sorry figure in the field. One lost count of the dropped catches and the sloppy misfielding. With the batting, bowling and fielding in a shambles, the West Indies will have to bring about a metamorphosis in their play to engineer a turnabout. And to be candid, this side does not have it in them to work such miracles.