Harbhajan Singh (left) and Alf Valentine... their poor form was a huge blow to the team © Getty Images

 

By Vincent Sunder

 

India’s ongoing tour of England seem to have some interesting similarities to the West Indies tour of England in 1957.

 

The 1957 West Indies side suffered innings defeats in the three Tests to lose the five-Test series 3-0. England dominated the West Indies in the two drawn Tests as well. India have already gone down 0-3 with one Test to go.

 

Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott were the batting pillars of that West Indies side. Garry Sobers, at 21, was an upcoming rookie during in this series. He had scored just 352 runs from nine previous Tests with just one fifty to his credit. His previous four Tests against New Zealand in New Zealand had fetched him a paltry 81 runs from seven innings at an average of 11.57.

 

The 1957 series also saw Rohan Kanhai, aged 22, make his Test debut. The other promising player in the West Indies squad was Collie Smith, aged 24, who had started his career with a hundred on debut against the Australians at Jamaica in 1955. Smith was also an effective off-spinner. (Smith had two big scores in the series — 168 and 161 — but failed to get past 25 in 8 other innings in that rubber. He had an untimely demise, succumbing in car accident in 1959).

 

Paceman Roy Gilchrist and spin twins Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were West Indies’ leading bowlers.The first Test at Edgbaston was a narrow escape for the West Indies. England had no clue to Sonny Ramadhin’s magic bowled with sleeves rolled down. They folded up for 186 runs in the first innings as Ramadhin finished with figures of 31-16-49-7.

 

West Indies responded with 474 runs, thanks to a sixth-wicket partnership of 190 between Smith (161) and Frank Worrell (81). England overcame a huge deficit off 288 runs in style, largely due to a 311-run century partnership between captain Peter May (285 not out) and Colin Cowdrey (154). England declared their innings at 583 for four. Set a target of 296 runs, West Indies narrowly avoided defeat, ending the final day at 72 for seven.

 

England inflicted an innings and 36 runs victory in the 2nd Test at Lord’s. The 3rd Test at Trent Bridge was drawn. England won the fourth Test at Headingley by an innings and five runs, and in the 5th and final Test at The Oval walloped the Windies by an innings and 237 runs. All three wins were achieved in just three days of play.

 

Without the solidity of the openers Allan Rae and Jeff Stollmeyer, West Indies tried seven different opening batsmen combinations, including getting men like Frank Worrell, Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai opening the innings. Illness and injuries dogged the Windies squad with Walcott, Gilchrist and Weekes playing with injuries. After two Tests, Alf Valentine was not in the playing eleven owing to poor form. Poor fielding and dropped catches also cost the West Indies dearly.

 

Let’s fast forward to the ongoing India-England series. India has suffered heavily in the absence of its regular openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Rahul Dravid has been forced to open the innings, much like Worrell, Sobers and Kanhai. India were hit by injuries to key players, poor fielding and reduced to just three frontline bowlers for the most part — much like with the 1957 Windies side in England. As with Alf Valentine, Harbhajan’s poor form — and subsequent sidelining, albeit due to an injury — worsened matters. Even had he been fit, Harbhajan’s poor form would have seen his ouster.

 

More significant is the middle-order batting. The three W’s were the fulcrum of the West Indies batting. Worrell came into the Test series with 2341 runs from 27 Tests at an average of 54.44 that included seven hundreds and 10 fifties.

 

Everton Weekes came to England with three consecutive Test hundreds two months ago in New Zealand. He had played 38 Tests amassing 3805 runs at an average of 64.49 with 14 hundreds and 15 fifties.

 

Clyde Walcott had 3082 runs from 33 Tests at an average of 60.43 that included 14 hundreds and 10 fifties. The 1957 series saw Worrell make just 350 runs from 10 innings at an average of 38.89 with one hundred and a fifty; Weekes managed 195 runs from 10 innings at an average of 19.50 with 90 of those runs coming in one innings. Walcott made 247 runs from 10 innings at an average of 27.44 with a just one big score of 90 in the first innings of the first Test.

 

Speaking in a different context, Rohan Kanhai is quoted. “Gary and I were on our first tour in 1957 to England and we saw the three Ws closely. They seemed past their best. We asked Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine about the trio and both said had we seen the three in the 1950s we would have understood how great they were”.

 

“How great they were!” A telling comment that makes one think of India’s Big Three — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. During the 1957 trip, Worrell was 33 years old, Weekes 32 and Walcott 31 years. As of date, Tendulkar and Dravid are past 38 and VVS Laxman will be 37 in November.

 

Worrell went on the lead the West Indies and totally played a further 19 Tests scoring 1169 runs with one hundred at an average of 44.96. His bigger contribution was unifying the diverse group of players and leading them with glory. Weekes played five Tests against Pakistan scoring 455 runs at an average of 65 that was boosted by 197 runs from the 1st innings of the first Test, whilst Walcott played another six Tests for 469 runs at an average of 67 with one big knock of 145 against Pakistan in the 1958 series.

 

The best perhaps is behind Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman, particularly given their age. They may sparkle a while, but having three greats to go together may cause a huge vacuum. Given how the vaunted limited-overs specialists struggle to come to terms and make meaningful contributions in the overseas Test arena when it mattered most during the game, there is cause for worry.

 

It’s time now for the Indian selectors to do some deep introspection and see where the future of Indian batting lies. There are talented players with the necessary temperament. It’s now up to the BCCI and the selectors to come up with plans to convert the boys into men.

 

And as for India’s Big Three, the Indian selectors could take a lesson from the Australian selectors in the manner in which they paved a graceful exit for a high-achiever in Steve Waugh.

 

(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)