New Delhi: In a three-match Test series, it is imperative to win the first Test. Very often in the past it has been seen that India have lost the first Test on a tour and then had to come back to draw level. Almost always one of the three games is drawn and what at the beginning of a tour looks like an opportunity to register an overseas Test series win often ends on an even keel.
After India comfortably won the one-off T20 game and the first three games of the ODI series, they made the cardinal mistake of taking the foot off the pedal. They failed to press home in the last two games and with hosts West Indies managing to pick up two important wins not only were they able to draw a respectable scoreline, but also wrest back the initiative from India.
India's perennial problem with the short ball came back to haunt them again at the Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica in the fifth ODI. Just days before that game, West Indies pace legend Curtly Ambrose had remarked how the West Indian bowlers had forgotten the art of intimidating the batsmen. But the likes of Kemar Roach and even Lendl Simmons gave the Indians some lessons in chin music.
And what is worrisome is that the first Test starting Monday will be played at the same venue. The two sides have clashed on 10 occasions at this ground with the West Indies having won six Tests, India one and three ending in draws.
The Sabina Park is full of memories of India-West Indies encounters. Right from the follow-on in 1971 to the controversial decision to declare the innings against the hostile pace attack in 1976. Playing at Sabina will test character and even though the team in whites with the likes of VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni looks stronger than the bench strength team that played the ODIs, the venue and the history it holds is bound to have an overbearing impact on the players.
The only silver lining is that India's only win at this venue in 2006 also helped them win a Test series in the West Indies in 35 years.
India first played at the Sabina Park in the fifth Test in the 1953 series. It was a game full of runs with Pankaj Roy, Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar scoring hundreds for India. For the hosts, the three W's shone with the bat with Frank Worrell scoring a double hundred, while Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott hit hundreds. The game ended in a draw.
India's second appearance at Sabina Park came in the second Test in 1962 and saw the visitors go down by an innings and 18 runs. Despite a healthy first innings score of 395, the Indians couldn't cope up with the massive run gap that was created by the West Indies as they reached 631 on the back of three centurions - Easton McMorris, Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers. India's second innings folded up for just 218.
The two teams returned to the venue for the fifth Test of the same series and the result was no different. The Indians did well to restrict the Windies to 253 in the first innings, but Lester King's five-wicket haul saw India being bowled out for 178. The Windies scored 283 in the second essay and set India a target of 359 runs. India could only manage 235.
India's next Test at Sabina Park was the historic first Test of the 1971 series. Even though it ended in a draw, India managed to get the hosts to follow-on. It was the biggest psychological battle that India had ever won while on tour and it pushed the Windies on the backfoot for the whole series. The hero of the game with the bat was undoubtedly Dilip Sardesai who scored a magnificent 212. Eknath Solkar was the second highest scorer with 61. But it was India's spinners who put the Windies through the ignomony of the follow on. Erapalli Prasanna picked up four wickets, while Srinivas Venkatraghavan got three and Bishan Singh Bedi scalped two.
Five years later in 1976, India and West Indies played a controversial Test that the hosts won by 10 wickets. India had scored 306 in the first innings, when captain Bishan Singh Bedi declared the innings in protest against the hostile pace attack. Six Indian batsmen were absent hurt in the second innings and the Windies were set a winning target of merely 13 runs.
The two teams were back at the venue to play the first Test in 1983. In an almost evenly-contested affair the Indians made 251 in the first innings and allowed the hosts to take just a three-run lead with Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri picking up four wickets each. But a five-wicket haul by Andy Roberts in the second innings saw India being skittled out for 174. The hosts knocked off the 172 required in 25 overs and won the game by four wickets.
The story was no different in the fourth Test in 1989. Despite Kapil Dev's six-wicket haul, the hosts managed to take over a 100-run lead. In the second innings, India slumped again and the Windies knocked off the 58 runs for the loss of three wickets to win the Test by seven wickets.
India were back at the Sabina Park to play the first Test in 1997. That was the third game to be drawn between the two sides at this venue. Anil Kumble got a five-wicket haul for India, while Windies pacer Franklyn Rose picked up six in India's first innings.
The venue continued to be a happy hunting ground for the Windies in the next Test against India here when the two sides faced off in the fifth game of the 2002 series. Mervyn Dillon ripped through the Indian lineup to help his side take more than a 200-run lead. Rather than enforce the follow-on, West Indies batted again and set India a winning target of 408. The Indians were bowled out for 252 and the hosts won the game by 155 runs.
India's 10th game at the venue was played in 2006 and when they were bowled out for 200 runs in the first innings it seemed that another loss was inevitable. But Harbhajan Singh turned it around for India has he sent down a dream spell picking up five wickets for 13 runs in 4.3 overs. The hosts were bowled out for 103. Corey Collymore returned the favour with a five-wicket haul to restrict India to 171 in the second innings. The hosts were set a target of 269 runs. Anil Kumble picked up six wickets for 78 runs to bowl out the West Indies for 219, thereby leading India to a 49-run win. India had finally won their first Test at Sabina Park.