Sachin Tendulkar (left) © Getty Images | Misbah-ul-Haq © AFP
Sachin Tendulkar (left) © Getty Images | Misbah-ul-Haq © AFP

1997 could have been a dark year for Indian cricket. Sachin Tendulkar had not even turned 24. He was the best batter around no doubt but he had already contemplated quitting the sport that made him a poster boy of a nation…

The decline of a force called West Indies had already begun. They still had outstanding performers like Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with younger guns like Franklyn Rose making a mark. The fall was visible though.

Sachin Tendulka’s India had drawn the first two Tests. Tendulkar’s 92 and state-mate Abey Kuruvilla’s 5 for 68 had ensured India had to complete a formality on Day Four to win the Barbados Test and go one-up in the series.

“Monday 31 March 1997 was a dark day in the history of Indian cricket and definitely the worst of my captaincy career. And yet it had promised so much. In fact, over dinner at a restaurant in St Lawrence Gap in Barbados the night before, I remember having a joke with the waiter, who was predicting a West Indian win. He was confident that Ambrose would bounce India out the next morning. Now, in the first innings of this match, Franklyn Rose had bowled me a bouncer and I had pulled him into the stands for six. So I reminded the waiter of the shot and jokingly said to him that if Ambrose tried to bowl me a bouncer, I would hit him all the way to Antigua. I was so confident of our chances that I pointed to the fridge and said he should immediately chill a bottle of champagne and I would come and open it the next day and pour him a glass to celebrate winning the match,” recalled Tendulkar in Playing It My Way.

Bishop (4 for 68), Franklyn Rose (3 for 19) and Ambrose (3 for 22) ensured that the Indian innings folded in the 36th over. Mervyn Dillon was not even needed. Chasing 120 the Caribbean pacers folded the much-famed Indian batting for 81. The line-up boasted names like VVS Laxman, Navjot Sidhu, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Azharuddin and Tendulkar himself.

The next two Tests ended in draws, which meant the hosts won the series 1-0. India lost the closely-fought ODI series too and Tendulkar contemplated moving on from the game. Thanks to his wife Anjali Indian cricket did not sink further.

“I even contemplated moving away from the sport completely, as it seemed nothing was going my way. Anjali, as usual, managed to put things in perspective and assured me that things would surely get better in the months to come. Looking back, it was just frustration getting the better of me,” Tendulkar later confessed.

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Twenty years on, West Indies, ranked ninth in the ICC Test Rankings, took on Pakistan in a 3-Test series. With the world cricket glued to IPL, the only interest generated from this event was the fact that this was to be Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan’s last series for Pakistan.

Pakistan have never won a series in West Indies. This was their best chance. It would be a significant achievement for the nation, marking the farewell of two legends. Not long ago, Pakistan were at the apex of ICC Test rankings. A formidable unit, they thrashed West Indies in the first Test at Jamaica.

They ticked most of the boxes right in the second Test. However, the local Bajan boys came to the rescue. A defiant Roston Chase (131) in the first innings and Shai Hope (90) in the second kept the West Indies candle burning. Pakistan had to chase down 188 on the final day to pocket the Barbados Test and register history. A few months prior they had almost scripted record when they came agonisingly close to chase down 490 against Australia in the Brisbane day-night Test.

Shannon Gabriel was 8 when he had seen West Indies dismantle India in March 1997. Gabriel, Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph are mere shadows of West Indies pace-battery’s pristine past. Thanks to some inspiring bowling and an overtly defensive approach by Pakistani batsmen, the tourists were skittled out for 81 in quest of history. The Bajan curse of 81 was repeated. The series stands level at 1-1. Gabriel had claimed 5 for 11 and ended with a match haul of 9 for 92.

In a span of 20 years arch-rivals India and Pakistan have fallen at the same score against the same opposition at the same venue.

Misbah and Younis, unlike Tendulkar, will not continue playing irrespective of the result in the final Test.