Gavaskar and Viv Richards, just two greats in the long list of legends that have made India-West Indies battles so memorable over the years © Getty Images

 

By Rohan Kallicharan

 

There is something just a little bit special about a tour of West Indies to India. Whether it is a shared pain from generations of suffering at the hands of the British Empire, whether a unity brought about by having been for long period the Third World nations amongst the imperially- rich of world cricket, whether in fact the simple coming together of two sides with an unrivalled passion for the sport; it is always just a little bit special.

 

In a land which has made deities of their own legendary figures, heroes have been made of a number of West Indians, not least those of Indo-Caribbean descent, most notably Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran.

 

However, the love affair with West Indian cricket went far beyond that small issue of race and nationality, embracing a small group of nations who played cricket in a way that was pleasing to everyone.

 

Both sides were still in relative infancy to Test match cricket when they first met in 1948-49. The Indian public would only have a fleeting glimpse of the great George Headley who, approaching the age of 40, made only two in his only appearance of the tour. However, it was at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla  that the legend of the 3 Ws was born, with Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott amongst four West Indians – Gerry Gomez and RJ Christiani being the others – to score centuries in the first innings of the opening Test.

 

Weekes would make history, scoring centuries in four consecutive innings over three Test matches, before being run out for 90 in the first innings of the fourth Testh. That, along with relative failures of 56 and 48 in the final Test!!  It was during his score of 90 in Madras that Jeffrey Stollmeyer wrote in his tour diary, “Weekes was banging away, the smack of bat against ball echoed all over the lovely Chepauk ground.”

 

The West Indies won that series 1-0 and made a new legion of fans amongst an Indian nation that was, then as now, fanatical about cricket.

 

It was 10 years later that the men from the Caribbean returned to the subcontinent, this time under the captaincy of Gerry Alexander, and bringing with them a group of young men named Gary Sobers, Kanhai, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs and Sonny Ramadhin amongst others.

 

With Hall consistently amongst the wickets and the West Indian batsmen piling up some massive totals, this was a one-sided series which the West Indies won 3-0. This was a series in which the small village of Port Mourant in the Indo-Caribbean heartland of Berbice,Guyana, would take centrestage.

 

Surely no other area as small has produced such cricketing riches, and it was Kanhai who led the way with a typically swashbuckling 256, his highest Test score, in Calcutta, whilst Basil Butcher and Joey Solomon also scored centuries in the series to thrill the home fans who were beginning to enjoy watching those of Indian descent succeed in the motherland.

 

Sobers scored three centuries in the series as the West Indies showed signs of returning to greatness in the era shortly after the retirement of the 3 Ws.

 

The West Indies returned in 1966-67 with many of the men who had been youngsters on the previous tour. However, the notable addition was a young, gangly, bespectacled Guyanese by the name of Clive Lloyd, who on debut scored a crucial 78 not out in the second innings of the opening Test match in Bombay, in an unbeaten partnership with captain Sobers, at a time when the Indians under the leadership of the ‘Tiger’ Pataudi looked capable of pulling off a shock result.

 

In the second Test, Sobers and Gibbs starred with the ball as the West Indies clinched the series with a game to spare, before a thrilling test match in Madras which ended up in a draw, with Farokh Engineer and Chandu Borde scoring centuries for India before Bishan Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna nearly spun the hosts to their first ever victory against the men from the Caribbean.

 

They would clinch that elusive victory in the Caribbean on the 1970-71 tour, before the West Indies arrived in India for the 1974-75 series, one widely regarded as the best between the two sides. As Lloyd made his debut in 1966 at Mumbai, so would two youngsters in Bangalore eight years later; their names – Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge and Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards.

 

The first encounter set the scene for the entertainment to come. Greenidge was set to score a hundred on debut before a mix-up with Kallicharran saw him run out for 93. However, the West Indies ended the first day on 212 for two. However, overnight rain and uncovered pitches meant that the Indian spinners – Srini Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Prasanna – were close to unplayable, other than for Kallicharran, another product of Port Mourant.

 

As the West Indies collapsed from 212 for two to 289 all out, Kallicharran advanced from 64 to 124, a display described by Tony Cozier as ‘a masterful technical display’, and regarded by the Guyanese left-hander as the best innings of his career.

 

The game was in the balance well into the latter stages until Lloyd and Greenidge took the game away from India with a second innings partnership of 207, both scoring hundreds.

 

The tourists won the second Test with ease in Delhi, Viv Richards this time taking the plaudits for the West Indies with a quite majestic 192 not out, before the veteran Gibbs took eight wickets in the match against a side missing the injured Sunil Gavaskar.

 

Then came the unexpected Indian fightback, starting in Calcutta. A wonderful hundred from Gundappa Viswanath put India in the driving seat, a position they never relinquished. Chasing 310 to win in the final innings, the tourists hopes were extinguished when  Chandrasekhar dismissed Lloyd for 28 and then Kallicharran for 57 in the space of a few overs.

 

The fourth Test in Madras took on a similar pattern with Viswanath’s brilliant, unbeaten 97 putting India in command. Chasing 255 to win in a low-scoring match, the tourists quickly collapsed to 154 all out after the run out of Kallicharran for 51.

 

After some 27 years of competition without a victory on home soil against the West Indies, the Indians now had two in consecutive matches, leading to a thrilling finale to a quite brilliant series. The final stanza at Bombay’s Wankhede Stadium saw three Guyanese left-handers – Lloyd with a career best 242 not out, Kallicharran with 98 and Roy Fredericks with 104 – lead the tourists to a first innings total of 604 for six declared.

 

The efforts of Viswanath (86) and Gavaskar (5) and a century from Eknath Solkar allowed India to scrape past the follow-on. However, the West Indians scored quickly in their second innings, allowing plenty of time for their bowlers, led by Vanburn Holder with six wickets, to clinch the series.

 

By the time that the West Indies arrived in India in 1978-79, the landscape of cricket had been obliterated by Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket. Kallicharran’s side was robbed of almost all of its stars other than the captain himself. Even though it would provide the Indians, led by the prolific Gavaskar and the emergence of a young all-rounder in Kapil Dev, with a first-ever series victory over the West Indies, West Indies benefitted by the arrival of two men who were to serve the team for long – Larry Gomes and Malcolm Denzil Marshall.

 

In a series dominated by batsmen, the captains led the way with Gavaskar averaging 90 and Kallicharran close to 60, with a career best 187 in Bombay. The decisive match was the fourth of the six-match series, a thriller that the hosts won by three wickets, scraping home to their target of 125 in Madras.

 

Five years later, the Indians were confronted by the full might of the West Indies. Statistically, the hosts matched up well, both Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar scoring two centuries and averaging over 50, whilst Kapil Dev took 29 wickets at 18. However, Lloyd led from the front on what was his final tour to India, and on the supposedly placid tracks of the subcontinent, Marshall and Michael Holding both took 30 wickets. They led a bowling attack shorn of Joel Garner and later to be missing the injured Andy Roberts.

 

Make no mistake, the West Indies had a score to settle after being beaten by the Indians in the 1983 World Cup final, and they were not about to be stopped. This was hostility and menace which had previously not been seen in India, Marshall in particular. The tourists won the series 3-0, and it was in fact not as close as the scoreline suggests. This was the West Indian machine at its ruthless best.

 

Some 28 years on, the West Indies have not won another series in India. The 1987-88 and 1994 series were drawn, both amidst dramatic scenes. Still rated the best side in the world, 1987 saw Narendra Hirwani spin the Indians to a series-levelling victory in Madras. The 1994 series was billed as a battle between Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, one won conclusively by the Little Master. However, in a series where they were distinctly outplayed, the tourists proudly defended their unbeaten record of 15 years when Kenny Benjamin and Courtney Walsh bowled out the home side with a lethal spell of fast bowling in Chandigarh.

 

That unbeaten record would last only a further few months as the Australians would defeat the West Indies in their Caribbean, launching their own era of dominance. The men from the Caribbean were entering a period of decline that continues to this day, and the 2002-03 tour saw Sourav Ganguly’s men crush the visitors by 2-0 in a three-match series.

 

It is some nine years since the West Indies played a Test match in India, and it is fitting that the forthcoming tour should start at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, the ground where it all started between these two sides in 1948.

 

The intervening 63 years have seen all of the West Indian legends star in India, several of them with career bests on the subcontinent, many of them making their debuts on Indian soil. The question now is: Who from the class of 2011 has the ability to stand up and be counted among the galaxy of the great West Indians of yesteryear?

 

(Rohan Kallicharan, son of the legendary batsman Alvin Kallicharan, is a West Indian cricket enthusiast based in the UK who played at under-19 level. He is now a Recruitment Professional who writes about the game in his free time. He is a columnist for All Out Cricket Magazine. He also has own sports’ blog http://hetoreahamstring.co.uk)