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Kohli’s men well placed to rewrite bloody Kingston lore

Wisden India logo Wisden India 30-07-2016

This generation of Indian cricketers, brought up with Twitter feeds rather than newspapers, broadcasting their lives on Instagram rather than writing letters, finding love on Facebook rather than in a quiet garden, are in serious danger of creating history without quite knowing the full extent of what they are on the verge of achieving.

© AFP Photo

India’s win in the first Test, at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua was historic as an independent event: Never before had India won a Test by an innings in West Indies, and they had only done so thrice before outside Asia. But what beckons is more dramatic. India have toured West Indies 11 times before this sojourn, dating back to 1953, and try as they have they have never won more than one Test match on any given tour. To say this is their best chance to break the jinx would be understating the case: Anything less would be unacceptable given the lack of strength and depth in this West Indies team.

That they have the chance to seal the deal at Sabina Park should only sweeten the anticipation. This is a venue that has inspired some of the most fearsome spells of fast bowling over the years and one that has not produced a drawn Test since 1998. It’s no surprise that West Indies have brought the additional pace of Alzarri Joseph, the 19-year-old from Antigua, into the squad, and either he or Miguel Cummins, also known for his muscular pace, will come into the XI at the expense of a batsman.

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India used three fast men in Antigua, and will not want to lower the pace quotient unless the conditions change dramatically in the hours just before the first ball is bowled. This will mean that the top order – KL Rahul coming in for an injured M Vijay as the only change – will once again have to be extra responsible and that the lower order will have to contribute with the bat.

For inspiration, Virat Kohli will not have to look far, not beyond Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box, but he will have to go back as long as 40 years. It was in 1976 that India arrived in Kingston having pulled off the greatest Test heist of the time, chasing down 403 in Port of Spain. West Indies were riled up good and proper, and Clive Lloyd was not shy of letting his big guns boom.

What followed was an unworldly Test match, the four-pronged attack of Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder looking not merely to dismiss batsmen but to rough them up in the process.

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Gavaskar, who is revered in the West Indies, and has tremendous affection for both cricketers from the region and the islands themselves, was so disturbed by the events of 1976 that he devoted an entire chapter to the Test match in his book Sunny Days. The passage recounting the events is disturbing rather than evocative. In hindsight, Gavaskar may have phrased things a little differently considering the cultural sensitivities at play, but it is essential reading for any fan of Indian cricket.

“To call the crowd a ‘crowd’ in Jamaica is a misnomer. It should be called a ‘mob’. The way they shrieked and howled every time Holding bowled was positively horrible. They encouraged him with shouts of ‘Kill him, maan!’, ‘Hit him, maan!’, ‘Knock his head off, Mike!’ All this proved beyond a shadow of doubt that these people still belonged to the jungles and forests, instead of a civilised country,” wrote Gavaskar in the chapter titled Barbarism in Kingston. “Their partisan attitude was even more evident when they did not applaud any shots we played. At one stage I even ‘demanded’ claps for a boundary shot off Daniel. All I got was laughter from the section, which certainly hadn’t graduated from the trees where they belonged … They were stamping their legs, clapping and jumping with joy. The only word I can think of to describe the behaviour of the crowd is ‘barbarian’. Here was a man seriously injured, and these barbarians were thirsting for more blood, instead of expressing sympathy, as any civilised and sporting crowd would have done … The whole thing was sickening. Never have I seen such cold-blooded and positively indifferent behaviour from cricket officials. And the spectators, to put it mildly, were positively inhuman.”

By the end of the innings, Gundappa Viswanath had a broken hand, Brijesh Patel a split lip that required stitches after being hit flush by a bouncer, Gavaskar bruises all over and Anshuman Gaekwad was taken to hospital after being hit on the ear.

The treatment from the quicks, a mixture of brutal bouncers and wicked lifters, with the odd beamer thrown in for good measure, had the crowd in rapture, but Bishan Bedi, the captain, was having none of it. India declared their first innings on 306, only six wickets down, and in the second dig were 97 for 5 with no fit batsmen left to take the crease. Gaekwad, Patel, Viswanath, Bedi and BS Chandrasekhar all had the entry absent hurt against their names on the scorecard.

No such thing has happened before or since, and Kohli should know better than to be lulled into calm by the tranquility of the sapphire waters that encircle Jamaica. Kingston has become synonymous with violent crime, but it was also the venue of blood and gore on a cricket pitch. What better place to chase history, revisit it, and eventually rewrite it?

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