Imagine a scene - A 6.4’ human figure is approaching you. He is not just nonchalantly strolling, but is fiercely making advances with a round, red, hard looking object tightly clasped in one of his hands. 22 yards away from you the intimidating giant of a man takes a leap which makes the hair on your back of your neck stand up. The fear is ringing in your ears and your sole comfort is your faith in your willow wielding. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye the ball bounces off the hard surface and the next thing you know is a blinding sensation of pain surging through your left temple.
The aforementioned blink of an eye is further extended when you realize you are on all fours and cannot hold your head up. It takes about 3 minutes to regain your consciousness and at the end of it you are wearing a puzzled look and wondering what the heck just happened. Your non striking partner, who is offering his commiserations standing right next to you, is as clueless about what just happened.
If you were a cricketer in 1970`s and by any chance happened to be a batsman, whenever you toured the Caribbean islands, you wished you were dead than facing the hostile quartet of West Indies bowlers hell bent on giving you a chilling experience. The very sight of “The Grim Reapers” of the `Golden Era` of West Indies cricket was enough to send a shudder down your spine.
The utter dominance of West Indies cricket in that era is epitomised by the fact that they were undefeated for a period of 15 years. No other team in the history of the game has exhibited the superiority over their rivals and outclassed their opponents as they did while in their prime.
Under the leadership of first Clive Lloyd and then Sir Viv Richards, the team destroyed everything that came in their path to glory.
Indian team was considered to be a minnow in those times and first played a Test match against them just a year after their independence. It took India over two decades to register a Test match victory against the only rivals they had not defeated since making their Test debut in 1932.
Then came the historic 1971 series. What is remembered about the series is the outstanding performance from Sunil Gavaskar who, facing chin music at a time when helmets were an unknown species for batsman, amassed 774 runs at a whopping average of 154.80.
The reason that the names of Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishanath, Dilip Sardesai, and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar evoke respect is the fact that they gave out their best against the unofficial world champions in their own backyard with the same audacity, élan and grit as their most feared rivals.
However it is a pity to see that the team once considered the `Greatest of all time` is languishing today at the bottom half of rankings of the top cricketing nations.
Warriors were born and players stamped their greatness with their performances in the Caribbean tour. You were not considered a great batsman or bowler unless you successfully held your nerves against `Whispering Death`- Holding, or tamed the devastating strokeplay of the original `Master Blaster`-Richards.
Since the departure of their charismatic breed of fast bowlers, captains and batsmen, the team in the recent years, is a pale reflection of the sublime image of yesteryears.
Also to be noticed is the fading Calypso song, the ever celebrating followers, their drums, their moves. They have rightly realigned their loyalties to other sports which draw the same amount of pleasure, fame and money as cricket used to in earlier times.
Their current coach Ottis Gibson`s statement that the West Indies are 10-15 years behind the curve sums it all.
Now the tour of West Indies has lost all the charm and prominence it used to generate before. The teams have stopped preparing exclusively for the tour like they would do for the current powerhouses of cricket world.
The very fact that the Indian cricket team touring the islands has sent a second string squad is a prime example of how the perception of the once most feared team has changed over the years. A lot of this has to do with the inability and failure of the West Indies Cricket board to manage its players.
The continuous reports of difference cropping-up among the board and the players on myriad issues don’t help their cause either.
The recent example of leaving out their best batsman Chris Gayle out of the squad that hosted Pakistan, explains it all. The batsman later signed with a domestic T20 league side where he ran amok bludgeoning the bowling attacks and emerged as the highest run getter of the domestic tournament.
What is more surprising is that despite his exploits in Indian Premier League, Gayle was not included for the lone T20 and first two ODIs against India.
The reason for West Indies’ decline is also synonymous with the decline of their pace bowling prowess that has failed to produce a world class bowler since Courtney Walsh hung up his boots.
A few bowlers like Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards, and Kemar Roach give the impression of a revival but injuries combined with inconsistencies in the performances added with the mismanagement of players pushes everything back to square one.
Team India`s record in the Caribbean islands might not be the one to boast about but the ground realities have seen a sea of change in the past few decades or so. India is now the best Test cricketing side in the world, lead by a man with the Midas touch-MS Dhoni, who has been conquering almost everything coming in his way. He holds the record for longest unbeaten run in Tests since his debut, 11 Tests (8 wins and 3 draws).
However the current squad will miss the services of their star batsmen-Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir and Yuvraj, but still, the team comprises some of the most promising, experienced and outstanding performers in Dravid, Kohli, Laxman, Dhoni, Zaheer and Harbhajan.
This happens to be the best chances for the Indian team to improve their record of winning only 11 of the 82 Test matches they have played against West Indies.
India will surely be a hard nut for the troubled West Indies team to crack that recorded its first Test win in two years dating back to February 2009. Nevertheless, a respectable performance from the side that is showing signs of returning to the right track will bade well for the future and if the board and players are ready to work out on an amicable solution.