In match two of the International Cricket Council World Cup 2019 (WC19) the modern generation got a glimpse of what the West Indian team had to offer to the hapless batsmen of the 70s, 80s and the 90s. In a re-run of a blast from the past, the Windies attack decimated the Pakistan line up with a well devised strategy of bowling short and onto their bodies.
After many years, cricket lovers saw the West Indian bowlers go back to sheer pace to rattle the opposition. Andre Russell’s unique figures of two wickets for four runs off eighteen deliveries, put the fear of God into the minds of batsmen reared on flat sub-continental pitches. The setting was perfect for Oshane Thomas, the twenty-two year old Jamaican who can be confused for heavyweight pugilist, to deliver the knock out punch with 4 wickets for 27 runs on his world cup debut.
The 21.4 overs bowled by the men from the Caribbean brought back memories which featured fast men of the past. Having watched the West Indian juggernaut in three continents — England and Aus-tralia (apart from India) from 1974 onwards, the one word that could describe their lethal bowling attack was ‘fearsome’. My earliest memory of the Windies takes me back to a wintry morning of Cal-cutta (Kolkata) in 1974 when they played India in the third Test match at the Eden Gardens.
Even before one could find one’s seat in the packed stadium, the Indian opener, Sudhir Naik was walking back to the pavilion caught behind off Andy Roberts of the first ball of the match. The hush from a normally noisy crowd was unbelievable.
They had heard about the exploits of the Antiguan while playing for Hampshire in the English County championship. Watching him cause a big dent in the Indian batting line up very early was a bit too much for them to digest. For Indian fans, Roberts was the latest from a region that produced fiery bowlers like Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith and Roy Gilchrist.
That series saw Roberts playing the role of the attacker-in-chief ably supported by Vanburn Holder and left arm pacer, Bernard Julien. It was up to a virtuoso display by the incomparable Gundappa Viswanath who stood tall in the absence of his compatriot and (later) brother in law, Sunil Gavaskar who missed three Test matches due to a finger injury. India lost that series 2-3, which ideally should have concluded as a draw (the last Test in Bombay was extended by a day).
From 1974, Roberts went on to be the war head of a fearsome West Indian attack that featured Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, amongst others. Four years later, in 1978, as a member of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) team, one was tasked to assist the Windies team, led by Alvin Kallicharan, in their net session at the Brabourne Stadium.
The team, depleted with the lack of regulars who were part of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, was to play a first class fixture against the Indian Board President’s XI. Watching them practice, at real close quarters, one got a glimpse of what real pace was all about. The dry, placid practice tracks at Brabourne Stadium were suddenly infused with life and looked different as the Windies pacers went about their business.
The attack which included Sylvester Clarke, Holder and Norbert Phillip were certainly no push overs. The part of the net, right behind the batsman, thudded back a few feet more than it normally would, when the batsmen were beaten or left the ball. The West Indians were their jovial self having an animated laugh in between sessions and discussing what they called ‘the swing thing’.
During a break in the practice session a senior member of the CCI team asked Phillip if they missed the presence of Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner. “No way Maan, we got Clarke and that fella out there,” he replied pointing to a much shorter colleague who ran in to bowl with an angular run up.
“That’s Mako, you gonna hear a lot more about him in the future”. Malcolm Marshall a.k.a Mako, who made his debut in that series, was the bowler who shook up the world of cricket with his deceptive pace and aggression for many years.
The current lot of Jason Holder, Sheldon Cottrell, Russell, Thomas and Kemar Roach have a big leg-acy to live up to. Following the footsteps of the aforementioned Windies bowlers (plus Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose) is not an easy task. One hopes that they will continue to challenge the best in the world in their future matches in WC19. A strong West Indies team is a joy to watch for the sheer pleasure they provide.