In almost seven decades of Test cricket in India, few teams have enjoyed the rampaging success that the West Indians of 1958-59 did. After the first Test was drawn, the tourists won the next three Tests by margins that brooked no argument, and India only just about managed to avoid defeat in the final game of the series. They were thus the first team to win three successive Tests in India.
Was the side really all that formidable? It certainly was wellserved in batting and pace bowling. In Gary Sobers, they had the then-world-record holder, who only the previous season had notched up a score of 365 not out against Pakistan. The other batsmen in the side included Jack Holt, Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon and 'Collie' Smith. Gerry Alexander, a wicket-keeper-batsman of some repute, led the tourists shrewdly.
In Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist, the West Indians possessed a pace duo the likes of which the Indians had never seen. Not only were Hall and Gilchrist fast, but their bouncers and occasional beamers were also disconcerting for the batsmen, who had still not gotten over their fear of and distaste for pace bowling. It was only in the spin department that the tourists were not a force. 'Sonny' Ramadhin, never really successful against the Indians, was discarded after the first Test, and all-rounders Smith and Sobers provided the spin support.
But with Hall and Gilchrist in devastating form, the spinners' role was minimal. In five Tests, Hall took 30 wickets, while Gilchrist - who missed one game as a disciplinary measure - finished with 26 wickets. The visitors' batting also took a heavy toll of the Indian bowling. Sobers reeled off hundreds in each of the first three Tests, Kanhai hit 256 in the third Test then the highest individual score against India and followed it up with 99 in the next match.
Centuries also flowed from the blades of Butcher, Smith, Solomon and Holt. The bowling was put to rout as in successive Tests, and the West Indies, worthy successors of the 1948-49 side, reeled off totals of 443 for seven declared, 614 for five declared, 500 and 644 for eight declared. But they went one better than their predecessors by racing to three victories by 203 runs, an innings and 336 runs, and 295 runs.
All this may give the impression that the West Indians were an all-powerful unit. While they were a very fine side, the onesided result in the series was also a fall-out of seamy incidents on and off the field. The Indians might have been ill-equipped to take on the tourists, but they were also given no help by the unhealthy atmosphere that prevailed throughout the series.
There were arguments galore among selection committee members, leading to one of them - LP Jai - resigning in the midst of the contest, while another - C Ramaswami - following suit after the series. There was also alleged interference from Board members in matters of team selection. These sordid happenings and the subsequent heavy defeats were even discussed in the Lok Sabha.
The team thus never had a settled look, with as many as 24 players figuring in the five Tests. Worse, four captains led India in the series. Ghulam Ahmed was appointed captain for all five Tests, but he withdrew on the eve of the first Test, and Polly Umrigar led in his place. Ghulam took over the captaincy for the second and third Tests. But the two heavy defeats forced him to announce his retirement. Umrigar was then named captain for the fourth Test at Madras, but following a disagreement with the selectors, he resigned the post on the eve of the Test. Vinoo Mankad was chosen as a last-minute replacement, while in the final Test at New Delhi, Hemu Adhikari was appointed captain.
Under these circumstances, it was perhaps expecting too much for the Indians to perform up to their capabilities. There were only a few crumbs of comfort. Umrigar lived up to his reputation by scoring 337 runs, as did Roy who aggregated 334. More however was expected from Vijay Manjrekar, given his reputation as a peerless player of pace bowling. Subash Gupte took 22 wickets, but after his great performance in the second Test at Kanpur - where he became the first Indian to take nine wickets in an innings - he was hit all over the place by the young, fleet-footed batsmen.
The one really outstanding discovery of the series was Chandu Borde, who with successive knocks of 56, 109 and 96 announced his arrival on the international stage. He came within a stroke of emulating the feat of his mentor Vijay Hazare of scoring a century in each innings of the final Test at New Delhi. But even as he was starting to make his mark, that Test marked the end of Mankad's illustrious 44-match career. The series in fact also saw Dattu Phadkar, Ghulam Ahmed and Adhikari play their last Tests, signalling a change of guard even as many young players like Borde, Nari Contractor, Bapu Nadkarni and Ramakant Desai started to make their presence felt.