India will be touring the Caribbean for a four-Test series versus the West Indies in about three months time. That was confirmed on Tuesday by the President of the West Indies Cricket Board, Dave Cameron. Again.
In fact, this was about the third or fourth time in the last 12 months that either Mr Cameron or the WICB's CEO, Michael Muirhead have confirmed the upcoming series — presumably, just to reassure us. This is helpful, because the perceived strength and depth of understanding between the BCCI and the WICB has been in a little bit of doubt since Windies' ill-fated ODI tour of October 2014.
Outwardly, the cordial Caribbean hosts have been confidently repeating that India will join them at West Indies' table for a feast of cricket in July/August.
Inwardly, they are still nervous that their visitors will either bring with them an invoice for an unpaid bill of $41.7m for their last get-together — or just not turn up at all.
So it's good to know they are definitely coming. India can surely expect Chris Gayle to be taking guard to open the batting on the first morning of the first Test; and Dwayne Bravo to be marking out his run-up.
But these are troubles beyond the horizon. On the immediate vista is the exciting prospect of an epic semi-final between hosts India and West Indies in the ICC World T20. Despite both sides suffering unexpected defeats in the group stage, many will expect the eventual competition winner to emerge from this clash of T20 titans. These were the two pre-tournament favourites; and both would realistically be expected to triumph over England in the final.
Lest you forget, India versus West Indies is a fixture that has huge historical significance - which is not restricted to the troubled events of the aborted tour of eighteen months ago.
It is burnt into most Indian fans' mind that the mighty West Indies were the vanquished at Lord's in 1983, when humble India produced one of the unlikeliest results in two hundred and fifty years of cricket, to prevent Clive Lloyd being handed the World Cup for a third successive time. One wonders if Lloyd had got his huge mits upon it, would the West Indies have kept that trophy forever - rather like Carlos Alberto's Brazil kept the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1970?
It was not to be - and the images we preserve of that day are of the beaming Mohinder Amarnath and Kapil Dev. Books have been written, and will continue to be written, about how this was THE pivotal moment in Indian cricket history. What is often forgotten is that these very two same opponents were the starting point for another cricket revolution a little over seven years earlier.
India's tour of the Caribbean in 1975/76 saw the birth of Lloyd's four-pronged pace attack, and the visitors were the crash-test dummies. This was Windies' first series after they had been annihilated 5-1 by Lillee and Thomson in Australia, and had experienced first-hand how frightening and intimidating pure pace bowling could be - and if you have enough of them, unrelenting too.
Lloyd knew he had impressive stocks of this commodity back home, but initially he was wary to load his hand so blatantly. His side was one-nil up after two Tests, still containing the conventional two spinners. The third Test at Port-of-Spain was, quite literally, the turning point.
On a spin-friendly Queen's Park pitch in Trinidad, West Indies went in with three spinners: Albert Padmore, Imtiaz Ali and Raphick Jumadeen (with Lloyd himself filling-in as part-time first-change seamer) - and were out-bowled by India's superior trio of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan.
India had been reliant upon these three plus Erapalli Prasanna as the bedrock of their bowling attack for the best part of a decade. It had seen them crowned as unofficial world Test champions in the early 1970s - a period in which they lost only one Test series between 1968 and 1974, and included away victories in 1971 to both England and the West Indies - their previous visit to the Caribbean. This time it was now one-all with one to play. Would history repeat itself?
India had made a pragmatic decision not to worry about going into a match with a balanced attack, rather, just to pick their best bowlers - whatever their persuasion. This was something South Africa had done early in the twentieth century, when they packed their side with a quartet of leg-spin and googly bowlers and hammered England 4-1 in 1906.
Clive Lloyd had now fully learned his lessons - firstly, from the pace of the Australians; secondly, from the selection policy of India. Enough was enough.
For the final Test, he went in with four hostile quick bowlers, and got them to bowl with fire. In India's first innings, both Ashuman Gaekwad and Brijesh Patel retired hurt - and captain Bedi declared before allowing either himself or Chandrasekhar to be put in harm's way. India's second innings scorecard makes for bizarre reading: 97 all out, with five men 'absent hurt'. Added to the names of Gaekwad, Patel, Bedi and Chandrasekhar was Gundappa Viswanath.
India had been blasted into submission; West Indies had won by ten wickets, taken the series 2-1, and Lloyd had made his point. The approach framed how West Indies cricket would be played for the next twenty years. Spinners as good as Rangy Nanan, who died last week aged 62, played only one Test in a first-class career which saw him as the highest wicket-taker in Caribbean domestic cricket in the 1980s. He was surplus to requirements.
Only when the conveyor belt of top-quality quick bowlers stopped did any other brand get an outing. And the subsequent twenty years have been increasingly lean for the West Indies.
Of course those years have also seen India and West Indies heading in different directions. That World Cup win in 1983 for India was one of the greatest sporting upsets of the twentieth century. West Indies's win over India in the recent final of the Under 19 World Cup was nearly as big as a surprise.
That win for the effervescent group of teenagers has been hailed by many as a fresh beginning for cricket in the Caribbean.
"The enthusiasm of TV commentators Ian Bishop, Paul Allott and Daryl Cullinan, all Test players, might reflect the widespread desire for a West Indies revival. They sounded genuine enough," wrote Tony Cozier for ESPNCricinfo.
How ironic — the same two sides, 30-odd years apart, and yet how the power has shifted.
West Indies intend to build on that recent Under-19 success — and are hoping that triumph is not merely a turning of the corner, but a turning of the page in their cricketing story.
It is curious how often a turning point has arrived when these two sides are in direct opposition.
Thursday night's World T20 semi-final is obviously bigger than just another game. But history suggests that it may be even more significant than that.
Updated Date: Mar 31, 2016 16:58:23 IST