West Indies go into their Test series against India with fans expecting more of what transpired in their recent series versus Australia and Sri Lanka.
The last time West Indies defeated India in Test cricket was in 2002, when under the coaching and captaincy leadership of Guyanese duo Roger Harper and Carl Hooper, they clinched a surprising 2-1 win that remains possibly their most significant series win this millennium.
The story of this unexpected triumph dates back to the beginning of 2001. While West Indies’ decline was well underway, there was some cause for cheer that season when Hooper returned to international cricket after a premature retirement in 1999. India meanwhile were busy pulling off their remarkable 2-1 home series Test victory versus Steve Waugh’s mighty Australians.
Though far from perfect, West Indies produced many encouraging performances under Hooper and Harper between the 2001 home series against South Africa and the 2003 World Cup, and were the most stable a West Indies team had been as a group since 1995 – the current T20 side under Darren Sammy excepted.
In those early days of Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy, India had still not shed their reputation of being lions at home and pussycats abroad, underlined by them losing a Test away in Zimbabwe after that Australia series win. Still, with the players they had at their disposal, India seemed to have all the bases covered to clinch their first series victory in the Caribbean since 1971.
For West Indies coach Harper, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Pedro Collins, that India series was the highlight of their playing and coaching careers, given West Indies’ less than stellar record before it and after. “Although we won the 2004 Champions Trophy, beating India that year I’d have to rank as the most memorable series I’ve played in for the West Indies,” Sarwan said.
“West Indies wasn’t winning a lot, so to win at home versus such a strong Indian team was out of this world, and it meant a lot to the people of the Caribbean,” Harper said. “It was certainly a coaching highlight. It really helped to give our young team at the time some confidence that we could be competitive against top opposition.”
Javagal Srinath led India’s fast bowling attack on the tour. “My memory of that wonderful series, although we lost, was the way Mervyn Dillon and Collins bowled and surprised us,” he said. “Then, well, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Hooper were a real pain to bowl to – they showed tremendous patience.”
During the first Test, in Guyana, India got an early glimpse of the Hooper and Chanderpaul show. “If batting was a beauty contest, Hooper would be Miss World,” it has been said in the Caribbean, and his double-hundred in Georgetown was his most clinical Test innings since he made 178 not out against Pakistan in Antigua in 1993. The way he dominated Anil Kumble was akin to Tendulkar humbling Shane Warne in India 1998.
“Carl Hooper put a lifetime of underachievement finally and firmly behind him yesterday, appropriately on the ground he has always called home,” Tony Cozier wrote at the time. He went on to refer to it as “belated vindication for the thousands of Hooper’s celebrating fellow Guyanese in the stands and his host of loyal fans throughout the Caribbean who have always been adamant that it was only a matter of time, but for whom time was running short.”
For Chanderpaul the series was the turning point of his career. It was then that he began to own the nickname Tiger. Before it, he had scored just two Test hundreds and 23 half-centuries from 51 Tests, at the average of 38.60. By the end of the series, he had scored three more centuries, and he averaged 57.63 over the next 13 years and 113 Tests.
Before the rain came to end the first Test, Rahul Dravid, batting at No. 5, produced a typical rearguard. “Rahul played many great innings for India, especially overseas,” said Srinath. “You could say that was a bit of forgotten masterclass from him because we were under pressure before the rain came, when Sachin got out, to first avoid the follow-on and get close to West Indies total.”
Winning the second Test, in Trinidad, was very significant for India, as it was the first time they had won outside the subcontinent since defeating England at Leeds 16 years previously.
“Test victories outside Asia was something many of us had not experienced in our careers and wanted to get right,” Srinath said. “We started very well, winning in Trinidad in our attempts to rectify this on that tour, but unfortunately we couldn’t maintain that level in the final three Tests.”
Harper noted he was encouraged by what he saw from his team, especially the bowlers, in the opening two Tests and was looking forward to the final three, two of which were in Barbados and Jamaica, the bounciest wickets of the series.
It was in Bridgetown that India blew a famous chance of a win in 1997. Outside of that 1997 Test, in four of the five Tests played in Barbados from 1996 to 2001, West Indies bowled first and made major inroads in the first hour. India were shot out for 102.
Sachin Tendulkar, who had scored his 29th Test hundred in the Trinidad win to equal Donald Bradman, could not negotiate Collins.
“I was very nervous, playing what was just my second Test in front of my home crowd,” recalled Collins. “Everyone in Barbados was hyped about seeing Tendulkar and I remember him getting a standing ovation coming out to bat.
“I remember I was going to my mark thinking I was bowling to the best batsman in the word, trying to stay relaxed. And the first ball I bowled at him, he edged, and that released all the pressure on me, so much that I felt the Test was over.”
Led by Dillon, who for perhaps the only time in his career bowled as a true leader of the attack, West Indies’ four-man pace attack (journeymen Cameron Cuffy and Adam Sanford completed the line-up) in the final three Tests pulled off a reasonable imitation of the great Caribbean quartets of the ’70s and ’80s.
“One of things we worked on with Dillon was cutting down on his no-balls,” Harper said. “He always had the ability to bowl wicket-taking balls, and everything simply was perfect for him that series.”
The imitation of the hostility of the West Indies attacks of yore was underlined in the high-scoring drawn Antigua Test, where Kumble had his jaw broken by Dillon but heroically decided to battle the pain and bowl.
“The bravery Anil showed that day didn’t totally surprise me or the team, because it was the kind of attitude that defined his career,” Srinath said. “It’s a cliché that is often said: fight until the last drop of blood. And he epitomised that by bowling in that situation. Any sportsman watching that incident would have been inspired by it.”
Harper thought the long hours India spent on the field in Antigua played a key part in West Indies winning in Jamaica. “After they spent all that time in the field, when they put us in and didn’t get any early wickets at Sabina, the memories of those long hours began to tell on them as Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds got us off to that positive start.”
“With our batting, we felt once we had scored runs, we were going to be competitive, since India were still vulnerable away from home,” Sarwan said. “No doubt the way Hooper and Shiv batted was the major factor in us winning that series.”
While Srinath only played three more Tests after that series, he believes learning from the mistakes made on that 2002 tour helped India become better tourists. “Ganguly as captain and all the other great players in the team made a conscious effort to do better away from home, and much of our away performances over the next decade after that West Indies series was testament to the effort they put in.” Indeed, India produced their best string of away Test performances in their history in the decade after, which eventually saw them being ranked No. 1 in Tests at one point.