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Arrogance arrested

By Gulu Ezekiel
May 29, 2003 17:37 IST
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Those cricket followers old enough to remember listening over the radio to India's record run chase at Port-of-Spain in April 1976 would no doubt have been struck by a sense of déjà vu as the West Indies took away that record, live on our TV sets in the Antigua Test against Australia.

Just as cricket in the Caribbean is currently going through one of the worst spells in its history, back in 1976 they had returned from Australia after receiving a 5-1 drubbing and captain Clive Lloyd's leadership was in jeopardy.

With Viv Richards on the way to a record-breaking year, the first Test at Barbados was a cakewalk for the home side. The drawn second at Port of Spain saw India come back strongly and then continuous rain at Kingston, Jamaica, meant the third Test was shifted back to the Trinidadian capital.

For the first time, the West Indies went in with three spinners with the Queen's Park Oval track always conducive to turn.

Clive LloydIt was a fatal mistake and one the West Indies would never make again. India coasted to victory, reaching 406 for 4 after Lloyd had confidently declared their second innings at 271 for 6.

Imtiaz Ali, Raphick Jumadeen and Albert Padmore bowled over 100 overs between them in India's record second innings and took all of two wickets. Their gentle bowling was like meat-and-drink for the Indian batsman reared on a diet of spin bowling back home.

That was the turning point for West Indies cricket and a dark moment for opposing batsmen around the world who would feel the backlash for the next two decades. Those same battered and bruised cricketers must no doubt be doing their share of gloating these days.

Lloyd had learned his lessons. His side had been terrorized Down Under by the Australian fast bowling battery and he swore he would never rely on spinners again as long as he led the West Indies.

That reign looked to be in serious danger when India finished the opening day of the fourth and final Test at Kingston, Jamaica on a strong 178 for one.

The next day Lloyd's instructions to Michael Holding, debutant Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder were clear: bowl round the wicket and aim to hit the batsmen. The crowd loved it, baying for Indian blood, much of which was spilt on the Sabina Park pitch. A couple of Indian batsmen even pleaded in vain with the policemen on duty to loan them their helmets!

It worked, the West Indies won a bizarre Test and the series 2-1, Lloyd's job was safe and cricket would never be the same again.

I was both amused and bemused to read in one of the 'leading national dailies' a couple of days after India's record had been broken -- thus avoiding another what by now has become an almost routine whitewash for the Windies -- how benign the reign of the Caribbean cricketers had been as they flattened all opponents right from 1976 to the early-90s.

Ironically, it was the Steve Waugh-led Australia which ended that golden run in the Caribbean in 1995. It was their first defeat at home since 1973 (also to the Aussies) and first in any series since New Zealand in 1980. It has been downhill all the way since then.  

English-Australian cricket writer and historian David Frith -- an implacable foe of Windies' all-pace formula -- calculated that between 1975 and 1989 as many as 35 opposing batsmen were casualties of what he refers to as "Black bodyline".

Fractured jaws, broken bones and forearms were common those days, despite all the padding and protection (helmets were first worn as much-needed protection in the all-pace years of World Series Cricket between 1977-79). Some of the injuries inflicted were life threatening, others merely career ending.

Yet no opposing captain, except for Bishan Singh Bedi after the 1976 Kingston "bloodbath", dared complain and no umpire dared intervene. For a batsman to 'whinge' would have been seen as cowardly, even unmanly and so the carnage continued unabated till the mid-90s when the assembly line of fast bowlers finally ground to a halt.

Despite their churlishness, Australian cricket can be credited with making spin bowling fashionable again, first thanks to Shane Warne and, currently, his shadow, Stuart MacGill.

The same newspaper article tells us how setbacks, including the mother of all defeats (the Prudential World Cup final of 1983) were just shrugged aside by the friendly West Indians of sunny disposition.

Hardly. There was rancour, bitterness and mutual recriminations in the Windies dressing room the day they were humiliated by the Indians at Lord's, just as they had been by many of the same players at Port of Spain seven years earlier. Lloyd tendered his resignation and was only persuaded the next day to take it back. Revenge was being sworn among those losers for the forthcoming tour of India later that year.

As Australia's all-conquering captain Steve Waugh, already 3-0 up, said when asked if he would go easy on the West Indies on the eve of the final Test at St. John's: "I don't recall the West Indies sides of the 80s doing us any favours."

Just ask the Indian batsman. Even on the plumb batting tracks at home, the late Malcolm Marshall, Holding, Andy Roberts and company blew the team away in 1983-84, winning the Test series 3-0 and the one-day series 5-0. Benign indeed!

After the 5-1 crushing in Australia in 1975-76, till he retired in 1984, the only series the West Indies lost under Lloyd's captaincy was in New Zealand in 1980.

There was no satellite TV those days, nor match referees and third umpires. But look at the tapes of that series and you will see the Windies were every bit as sore losers as the Aussies are being depicted after their temper tantrums at St. John's.

Michael HoldingFor those too young to remember, this was the series New Zealand won 1-0 in which Colin Croft deliberately barged into the umpire during his run-up and knocked him down, frustrated at appeals being turned down. The photo of Holding kicking the stumps in disgust is a well-known one. Not so well-known is that at one stage in the series Lloyd refused to take his side back onto the field after the tea interval. He did so only after being warned he was in danger of forfeiting the Test.

Dark mutterings were heard too at Madras in 1987 when debutant leg spinner Narendra Hirwani made the mighty Windies look like novices on a typical Chepauk turner. "Revenge" swore captain Richards once again and sure enough the Indian batsmen felt the backlash two years later when they toured the Caribbean.

Richards it was who proclaimed on taking over the captaincy from Lloyd that the West Indies team were a symbol of "Black Power". No player of Indian origin (known locally as East Indians) thus got a look-in during his reign, presumably because "Brown Power" was unacceptable in his scheme of things.

Ramnaresh SarwanIronical then that apart from captain Brian Lara, the bulk of the runs in the series against Australia came from the likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan (now promoted to the vice-captaincy) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul with Darren Ganga, off-spinner Mahendra Nagamattoo (now replaced by the very ordinary Omari Banks) and a host of other 'East Indians' lurking in the background.

Lloyd himself has been quoted as saying that it is "arrogance" that has been a major factor in the pitiable sight of the World Cup champions of 1975 and 1979 (they have reached the semifinals only once since 1987) being whitewashed by the likes of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and nearly by India last year. They used to call it 'blackwash' when the Windies were dishing it out.

Perhaps no cricket side in the world has such a long list of distinguished ex-cricketers, including the likes of the legendary Sir Garry Sobers, Lloyd, Richards (now the chief of selectors), Everton Weekes and all the famous fast bowlers of not so long ago. Yet the astonishing reluctance of the West Indies Cricket Board to adequately utilize their services has done incalculable harm to cricket in these tiny islands.

Sobers, in his autobiography, claims he has never been asked to help out while Lloyd and Richards had brief stints as manager/coach before being shown the door. Currently Gus Logie is doing the job after Roger Harper did not ask for an extension following an early exit in the World Cup in South Africa. Neither Logie nor Harper ever held their place consistently in the mighty sides of the 80s.

Lara's return as captain after giving up the post in 2000 following two disastrous years may be just the tonic the side needs. It is a young one and all the players look up to Lara who is trying hard to shed his enfant-terrible tag, though problems persist.

The glory days of Holding, Roberts, Croft, Joel Garner, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh may still be a long way off. Merv Dillon looked to be taking over the mantle but has not lived up to his promised. Jermaine Lawson looked the best of the new crop till he was reported to the ICC for a suspect bowling action.

The batting, with Lara at the helm, looks like it is coming out of the dark period of the last three years when sub-100 totals had become the norm.

St. John's, Antigua, offers just a brief glimmer of hope.

-- The writer is a freelance journalist and author based in New Delhi. His latest book is Sourav: A Biography (Penguin India)

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