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No Caribbean cruise! India in rough waters

Now that Lara has re-energised WI, India have their hands full, writes Ian Chappell.

india Updated: May 29, 2006 02:16 IST

Between 1973 and 1994, the West Indies were never beaten in a series in the Caribbean. That was in the days when they had a Rolls Royce-like production line of fast bowlers. And even though it’s now more like a strike-riddled factory rolling out the occasional Ambassador, India are finding that the West Indies are still difficult to beat at home.

In that incredible 21-year span, the West Indies had many champion fast bowlers, and their presence played a big part in their undefeated run. However, there were a few other big factors, some of which exist today too, and they make India’s job more difficult than it would seem on the surface.

The laws have been amended to stop the West Indies slowing the game with an appalling over rate any time they looked likely to be beaten. This occurred on the rare occasions in the late 70s and 80s when they got into trouble.

The Windies also had another ally in difficult times during the World Series Cricket (WSC) tour of 1979 — the crowd riot. In successive Super Tests at Barbados and Trinidad, there was a bottle-throwing riot when the West Indies had their backs to the wall but fortunately, play continued at the Queen’s Park Oval and a result was obtained. Thankfully, there have been few riots since 1979.

What the Caribbean crowds retain is a sense of humour and an unparalleled knowledge about the game. Hopefully, the decision to ban alcohol at some grounds won't dull the crowd, as both teams can benefit from this source of amusement. Priceless comments like “Dillon, enough of the foreplay, let’s have a bit of penetration” from a lady in the stands at Queen’s Park Oval after Mervyn Dillon had beaten the bat on three successive occasions are not uncommon in the Caribbean.

Despite the humour that emanates from the stands, it’s the urging on of the fast bowlers that presents the greatest problem to visiting batsmen. At Sabina Park, they love bouncers and visitors quickly find it pays to be able to sway like palm trees in Kingston.

Sunil Gavaskar tells the wonderfully descriptive story of a Test at Sabina Park. Michael Holding had bowled him three bouncers in a row and then, in an attempt to surprise the opener, pitched one up. This prompted a disgruntled fan to call from the stands: “Hey Mikey, bowl him a boungser!”

If in doubt, a bouncer is the weapon of choice in whole of Caribbean.

Much like in Australia, one of the big reasons for the West Indies’ success is that the public demands quality performances from their team. You only need to listen to a talk-back radio program in the Caribbean to discover how passionate people are about their team. If the subject is cricket, the people of the Caribbean rival Italians in a coffee shop when it comes to animated discussion.

Now that Brian Lara appears to have re-energised the West Indies and has them playing with a lot more pride, India have their hands full. The crowds are likely to turn up in greater numbers and  their wit is only likely to be sharpened by the team’s successes.

During Australia’s 1991 tour of the West Indies, one “Robert from Antigua” used to ring me regularly with advice for Australian captain Allan Border. This advice was always spot on, as was the message from “Big Tony”, who yelled out from the Constantine stand at Queen’s Park Oval: “Hey Border, tell de batsmen dey must attack de West Indies pace bowlers.”

It can be a great place to tour, but only if you accept the comments of the locals with the good humour with which it is dispensed. As a visiting batsman, it pays to find a way to despatch the short-pitched delivery because they come flying at you, just like the flow of wit from the stands.