Chasing a meagre target of 120, India were bundled out for a mere 81 by some hostile bowling from West Indies on this day in 1997. India had a chance to win their first Test in the Caribbean since 1976, when they chased down 403 at Port of Spain. However, as fate would have it, India were reduced to tears after they lost their last eight wickets for just 49 runs as the trio of Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose ran through the batting line-up in what the then Indian captain Sachin Tendulkar considers one of the darkest days in Indian cricket.
India in driver’s seat
With Courtney Walsh, Ambrose and Bishop, West Indies had a formidable bowling unit, while Mervyn Dillon and Rose played the perfect supporting role till then in the series. India’s fast bowlers, Abey Kuruvilla, Dodda Ganesh and Venkatesh Prasad paled in comparison but had proved that they weren’t pushovers. After a stalemate in the first two Tests at Jamaica and Trinidad, the captains mutually agreed to have a more result-oriented wicket for this Test, due to which there was a lot of grass still left on the track on the final day of the match and India could not handle the seam and sometimes uneven bounce of the West Indian quicks.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul could not have found a better time to score his maiden Test ton. His unbeaten 137 along with some valuable contributions from the tail took West Indies to 298 in the first innings.
Skipper Walsh was ruled out of this Test due to a hamstring injury, still leaving stand-in skipper Brian Lara with plenty of options at his disposal. However, India had put themselves in an excellent position thanks to a superb 170-run third wicket stand between Rahul Dravid (78) and Tendulkar (92). As a result, India went on to take a slender, yet valuable, 21-run lead.
West Indies needed a strong batting performance to have a chance of winning the game, which was further dented by a poor start and to add to their woes, Kuruvilla came into his own and picked up his maiden five-wicket haul to dismiss Windies for just 140, setting India a target of 120.
India were so confident of winning the Test on the final day that Tendulkar had asked the waiter from his hotel to keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge so that the team can celebrate once the match was won.
India needed 118 more to win on the final day. But Navjot Singh Sidhu was out caught at slip after he edged a ball that bounced. The umpire on this occasion did not call a no-ball despite Rose clearly overstepping. Rose was on fire as he removed Dravid and VVS Laxman too in quick succession. The pressure was on the 23-year-old captain Tendulkar to once again take India to safety. But Bishop dismissed him for the second time in the match, this time caught at slip by Lara and suddenly India were staring down the barrel at 32 for 4.
With Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Azharuddin’s departure, India were 69 runs away with just three more wickets in hand. It was just a matter of time before they took a lead in the series. Indian batsmen were outdone by the ball keeping low and the fact that there was some movement on offer too did not make things easier. India’s tail was not known to offer much resistance back then and in the end, the hosts snatched a 38-run victory.
In fact, there were many instances in matches - before and after this game - that India have collapsed after Tendulkar’s dismissal. There was a sense of security among the Indian fans while he was at the crease, but many times while he had won games single-handedly, but most of the times, his team would let him down.
‘Considered quitting cricket’
The next two Tests ended in a draw, which meant West Indies won the five-match series 1-0. India also went on to lose the ODI series 3-1. Tendulkar revealed that he considered walking away from the game completely after that tour.
Tendulkar in his two stints as captain went on to lead India in 25 Tests, winning just four of them. Although his batting did not take a dip – having scored more than 2,000 runs at an average of over 51 – he did not particularly like captaining the side.
Interestingly, 20 years after this match another Asian team – Pakistan – were bowled out for 81 at the same venue, chasing 187. This was Misbah-ul-Haq and Pakistan’s leading run-scorer Younis Khan’s final series – the second Test – which should have ideally seen Pakistan ease to a victory. But Shannon Gabriel bowled the spell of his life (5 for 11) to bundle Pakistan out for just 81. In 1997 too, West Indies needed just three bowlers to polish India off and it was a similar case in this Test as well.