The island-city of Bombay has produced some 40 test cricketers, who have collectively scored in excess of 50,000 test runs. In the matter of great cricketers per acre of green grass it is rivalled only by the island-nation of Barbados. But unlike Bombay, Barbados is resolutely Christian, a bastion of Anglicanism known as “Little England”. There is a story of a visiting archbishop of Canterbury addressing a congregation at St Mich- ael’s Cathedral in Bridgetown. “I have come to you”, he told a full house of worshippers, “to speak of the Three W’s.” A great and anticipatory cheer went up, but then the pontiff continued: “Yes, the three W’s. Work, Worship and Witness.” The crowd started filing out, silently, and soon there were no more than two dozen Bajans left to hear his sermon.
Millions of Indians once knew what the archbishop didn’t. Especially in Calcutta, they recognized only one set of three W’s — Weekes, Worrell and Walcott — although in the Bengali version these were sometimes portrayed as an E, an H and a B respectively: Eeks, Horail, and Bholcott. The first and the last helped ring in the Calcutta New Year of 1949, Everton Weekes scoring 162 and 101, and Clyde Walcott 54 and 108 in a test which ran from December 31 through January 4. Frank Worrell was not on that tour, but he came shortly afterwards, as an essential adornment of the three Commonwealth teams that toured India in the early Fifties.
The hundreds he hit with a silken elegance for those now-forgotten multi-national teams made Worrell one of the best loved foreigners to visit India. Our affection for him is engraved on his tombstone, which reads: “Sir Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell/ B.A. (Manchester): L.L.D. (Punjab)/ West Indies cricketer.” I need hardly explain that the British degree was earned through examination, whereas the Indian degree was bestowed upon Worrell in recognition of his services to cricket and to humanity.
Although the Calcutta Test was drawn, the West Indies won the test series of 1948-49, by one test to nil. Ten years later, the result was more emphatic, three-nil. The biggest victory was at Calcutta, by an innings and 336 runs. The wickets were mostly taken by Roy Gilchrist and Wesley Hall, as menacing a twosome as ever shred a new ball. The runs were shared around. In a West Indies score of 614 for 5 declared, Garfield Sobers and Basil Butcher got centuries, and Rohan Kanhai, 256.
A vivid memory of that slaughter is carried by my friend Rudrangshu Mukherjee. At the close of the first day’s play, when the West Indies were about 350 for 1, with Kanhai around 170 not out, Rudrangshu was taken by his father to meet Polly Umrigar. This was the first time the (then) little boy had shaken hands with a test cricketer, an ever-sweet memory made a little sour by the recollection of how bruised and calloused were Umrigar’s fingers and palms. Truth be told, only Polly would have even attempted to stop those cannonballs. The other Indians would have let them go through their legs.
Eight years later, in the Calcutta Test, Kanhai made a mere 90. It was still the top score, and the West Indies still won by an innings. Rudrangshu’s clearest memory of this match pertains to the brilliance of Caribbean fielding. Chandu Borde had played a ball on the on side, and set off for a single. The crowd heard Gary Sobers, the bowler, shout, “Clean up, Clive!” Borde had not seen a lean and hungry fellow hovering near midwicket. He was yards short of his ground when Lloyd’s throw broke the stumps. Sobers was so certain of his man that he did not even stand over the wicket to collect the ball in case it missed.
Let’s add to that a memory of Caribbean gentlemanliness. This particular test was disrupted by a riot, which led to play being abandoned on the second day. As a malevolent crowd surged around the pavilion, armed with cans of kerosene, Conrad Hunte shinnied up the building to take down the symbols that adorned it. These were the flags, both of them, West Indian as well as Indian.
In the old, pre-Jaggu Dalmiya days of Indian cricket, the Calcutta test match was always played when Christmas was turning to New Year. No festive season could have been more gloriously radiant than that of 1974-5. In a real cracker of a test match, India beat the West Indies for the first time in India. Two of this test’s heroes, I am proud to say, were from my home town: G.R. Viswanath, who scored an immaculate hundred, and B.S. Chandrasekh- ar, whose second-innings dismissal of Clive Lloyd, with a googly that just dislodged the off bail, was probably the turning point of the match.
Four years later, when the West Indies came around for another long tour, their ranks had been badly depleted by the cheque book of Kerry Packer. At Calcutta, India should have won again, but Gavaskar declared our second innings too late, and in the end the West Indies still had one wicket to fall when darkness descended upon the Hooghly. Then in the last months of 1983, Clive Lloyd brought a team whose sole intention was to avenge the disastrous World Cup defeat of the previous summer.
It was some side, this, with batsmen like Richards and Greenidge and bowlers like Marshal and Holding. This time the Calcutta Test was the fifth and last of the series. Lloyd’s men came to the Eden Gardens two-up, but still wouldn’t let up. The great Gavas- kar was out off the first ball of the match. With this kind of start the home side had to lose, and lose by an innings. Marshall took nine wickets, Holding six. While Richards and Greenidge scored modestly, their failure was more than compensated by the super-heavy bat of their captain, which pulled and drove its way to 161 runs.
During Christmas 1987, the West Indies came back to Calcutta, led by Viv Richards. They batted first and scored 530 for 5 declared. In the old days this would have been enough to dismiss India two times, perhaps three. But Roberts and Holding had retired, and Marshall was resting. Against an inexperienced attack, India replied with 565 all out, and the match, inevitably, was drawn.
That side of 1987 was the last West Indian cricket team to visit Calcutta. Remarkably, there is one man who played then who will play this week — Carl Hooper. How he must wish he had with him the likes of Richards and Lloyd and Hall and Marshall! Indeed, one can safely say that no West Indian side would ever have come to Calcutta and generated such little excitement. For the first time in the history of this test venue, there will be no tickets being sold in the black market.
The reasons for this disenchantment are specific, the fact that this particular series is dead, as well as general, the fact that West Indies cricket has entered into a long and painful decline. Long and painful, yes, but one can still hope that it is not terminal. Indians of my generation grew up believing that the West Indians were the best of all cricketers, but also the most colourful and charismatic. Speaking for all of us over 40, Ayaz Memon has recently written of how the West Indies cricketing tradition was “perhaps the most exciting, if not the best”. It “would be a tragedy of cricket,” he remarks, “if this magnificent lineage is allowed to dry up.”
For me, the happiest single event of the current test series was the cheap dismissal of Rahul Dravid in the Chennai test. Rahul lives but a mile away from me, and in any case I greatly admire his batsmanship. I am even prepared to concede, on the basis of what he did this past summer in England, that he should replace the legendary Vijay Hazare in an all-time Indian eleven. But I still would not want Dravid to have broken a record held for so long by Everton Weekes. Four hundreds in a row was quite enough; why should he be allowed to have any more'
In the same spirit, of putting love of cricket above patriotic ardour, let me share my hope of what this Calcutta Test should give us. It is that Carl Hooper gets a hundred, that Ram- naresh Sarwan gets another (his first), and finally, that Mervyn Dillon and his colleagues get 20 wickets between them, get them quickly and with runs to spare.