Indian cricket underwent a very gradual improvement away from home as the 1990s became the 2000s; the climb from regular defeat to solitary wins to full series victories was slow. This was perfectly encapsulated by the three successive trips to West Indies under three different captains – Sachin Tendulkar (1-0 defeat, in 1997) and Sourav Ganguly (2-1, 2002) beginning the sedate march before Rahul Dravid (0-1 victory, 2006) ended it.
It was India’s first series win in the Caribbean since 1971 and, aside from a victory over Zimbabwe the previous year, their first significant triumph outside the subcontinent since beating England 0-2 a full 20 years previously. It was made possible by the only Test that produced a result – India’s victory by 49 runs exactly 10 years ago today.
A SHAKY START
It was not quite Dravid apotheosis, but it certainly ranks as one of his finest moments. ‘The Wall’ led his side from the front, named the man of the series as India poured water all over Brian Lara’s final series at home.
But it did not, for a long time, look like it was going even remotely down that path. The Test matches were preceded by a five-match ODI series in the latter half of May 2006. It began fairly well, as India grabbed a five-wicket win at Kingston, but in retrospect, this where the Men in Blue began a downward slide that, unfortunately, was not halted in time for the 2007 World Cup.
West Indies won the following four ODIs (the second, also at Kingston, by one run) to complete a staggering 4-1 triumph. It can also be earmarked as the disaster that damaged coach Greg Chappell’s position irreparably. The Australian departed as a casualty in the post mortem of a disastrous World Cup.
WINDIES PUSHED TO THE EDGE
This crushing defeat in the ODI series, however, proved to be illusory. India, despite conceding a 130-run lead, were driven by a double hundred from Wasim Jaffer, setting the hosts a target of 392 in the first Test at St John’s, Antigua. The bowlers pushed hard, with Anil Kumble taking four wickets, but West Indies hung on. The last pair of Fidel Edwards (who finished on 1 not out from 36 balls) and Corey Collymore lasted the final 19 balls to secure a draw.
Four hundreds were struck in the second Test at Gros Islet, St Lucia – three of them in the first Indian innings. They were enough for 588 runs which, when combined with a highly socialist distribution of wickets among the bowlers, was enough to force the Windies into a follow-on. The hosts were somewhat fortunate, in that day four was lost completely to rain and the game finished in a draw while they were 294-7 with Denesh Ramdin and Jerome Taylor at the crease.
There was yet another listless draw in the third Test at Basseterre, St Kitts. Daren Ganga named the man of the match as a total of 1413 inconsequential runs were plundered past Indian and West Indian bowling over five days. The Indians, though, had seemingly picked a settled side for themselves in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar. This consistency in selection policy paid off in the fourth and final Test in Jamaica.
A HISTORIC WIN
Sabina Park, Kingston had been the scene of India’s shocking implosion in 2002. Four years later, the same ground saw India wrap up their first series win in the Caribbean for three-and-a-half decades. And fittingly it was skipper Dravid – the key module in India’s degree in winning abroad – stepped up magnificently to the occasion.
The Test began on June 30, on a capricious, moody pitch. The bowlers enjoyed themselves as batsmen on both sides struggled to repeat their heroics from the previous three Tests. Batting first, India reached exactly 200. Dravid top scored with 81, while Kumble was a helpful supporting act with his 45. All the other batsmen scored fewer than 20 runs, but it proved to be more than enough.
The West Indies crashed to 103 all out, with Harbhajan Singh taking 5/13, to leave India with a 97-run lead. India only managed 171 in their second innings of this low-scoring game, and Dravid inevitably top-scored once again, this time with 68. It gave the West Indies a target of 269 runs just before lunch on the third day.
There was more resistance from the hosts this time. Ramdin and Ramnaresh Sarwan both scored half-centuries but it wasn’t enough. Kumble took six wickets, cleaning up the entire middle and lower order, even as Ramdin defiantly parked himself at the wicket and refused to move.
The last man to fall was Collymore, the same man who had helped his side dodge defeat in the first Test, caught behind by Mahendra Singh Dhoni for a second-ball duck. It was a historic victory and it only took three days.
The series was one that belonged to Dravid all the way. His two scores of 81 and 68 at Kingston were, in a way, a perfect microcosm of the quality that made him one of the world’s best batsmen in that time. It was a pair of knocks made in adversity on an unhelpful pitch, demonstrating much sensibility, application and concentration.
It was the kind of performance that, made in trying conditions away from home and when his side really needed it, became an intrinsic part of his legend and is most identified with Dravid when talking about the former captain’s place in the history of Indian cricket.