A well contested series between India and the West Indies is on in the Caribbean, deconstructing as well as reconstructing certain stereotypes. In any case the cricket folklore among this cricket crazy populace stands to be enriched.
Much of the media hype had preceded the Indian team when they had begun with the tour. India’s proven dismal record overseas was a big factor and that was why no one was really giving the visitors much of a chance. On the other hand the element of aggression induced in the team by the captain had marginally bettered the fighting spirit, which had resulted in three away victories within a year.
But what actually tilted the scales in India’s favor was the wretched run which the hosts are having for almost a decade now. Their only advantage was the home factor, where they have not fared that bad. Ultimately it boiled down to the equation; If India does not beat this West Indian team on an away tour, they would perhaps never be able to record another away victory – and for the West Indies the verdict read; if a team like India with a proven dismal away record, beats them at home, they cannot avoid losing to any team anywhere in the world.
That set the stage for an engrossing encounter and most of the pundits were of the opinion that a more balanced contest could hardly be possible. It was the time of reckoning for both the teams, almost a now or never kind of a situation. With stakes really high speculation was the in thing. With three tests gone, each bringing forth a different result, it might superficially appear that everything is going as per the script.
I doubt if it really has been that way. The first hour of play at Guyana belonged to India and the doomsday prophesies regarding the future of West Indian cricket was in everybody’s mind. Cometh the hour and cometh the man. Carl Hooper played an innings of tremendous significance, the kinds which alter the course of history decisively. He had India on the back foot, struggling to avoid a follow on. Rain gods were generous to the Indian cause and encouraged by divine intervention, the Indians fought back to take some consolation points from the match. The picture was still unclear. Though the West Indians had dominated, India had shown the guts to fight back. Both of these occurrences are a rarity, keeping in mind the character of the teams at the moment. One had to wait till Port of Spain to get closer to reality.
Port of Spain was as close as it could get. It was one of the most compelling and entertaining test matches in recent memory, where fortunes changed with every hour. The pendulum kept rocking back and forth and even at the beginning of the last hour of play in the last session, no one could predict the outcome of the game with certainty. Despite a bad start, India fought back in the game, slipped back n number of times, but repeatedly came back and drew the first blood of the series.
In the process India recorded its fourth away victory in a year and this time it was not an insignificant one. India proved a point that it could perform under pressure and deliver. But the victory came at Port of Spain, where India has a rather good record, being the only non-Indian ground to have witnessed three Indian victories. Port of Spain was India’s best chance and India utilized it.
The suspense was still not over
because India was expected to do well in Trinidad. The real test lay on
faster surfaces, and the most hostile of them was waiting for them at
Bridgetown in the very next test.
After two surprise dominated tests, we finally had a match where predictability soon changed to inevitability. India was shot out for 102 and that settled the equation irrevocably. After such a demoralizing outing, it would have taken a miracle to avert a catastrophe. Once again Hooper saw to it that the opportunity dos not go waste. His effort went unrewarded in Guyana, but here it yielded dividends. Even in the second essay India was found wanting and only Ganguly’s resilience mixed with Zaheer’s adventurism made West Indies bat again. Bridgetown was West Indies’ best chance and they seized it with both hands.
We have seen three different colors of cricket in the three different matches so far. As far as the colors go, they were predicted relatively easily. But we are surprised with the shades in which they have come. I doubt if anybody would have betted his fortune on an Indian victory at Port of Spain and a West Indian victory at Bridgetown, despite the pointers and possibilities. The field is still open, as wide as it could be.
It is at Antigua and St Johns that the final picture will emerge. Even at this moment it is difficult to predict an outcome. With a solid performance each behind them the teams are more balanced than ever. The surface is the key now and here the hosts have a slight advantage. Antigua and St Johns are not as menacing as Bridgetown, but it is also not as docile as Port of Spain either.
The pressure is mounting and the stakes have got higher. One slip and the hopes go down the drain. It is not a question of who draws the first blood, because neither of the teams are so strong. Both are vulnerable and it is fundamentally a question of who commits the first error.
When it comes to that, one can easily predict that it will be India, which will blunder. But Ganguly’s men have developed a habit of proving predictions wrong and springing up a few surprises. At the same time, old habits die hard…
Over to Antigua then!
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