3 out of 38, dismal indeed!

Rahul Dravid-

The only glitches in the one-day scheme of things are bowling at the death, and to a lesser extent, batting blind. In Tests, however, India has issues in all three departments that need urgent sorting out, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

Traditionally never the most settled of tourists, members of Team India will travel to the West Indies looking to alter — however slightly — a poor record. Thirty-eight Tests played across various islands in the Caribbean Sea and in the South American coastal nation of Guyana have realised just three victories; Brian Lara wasn't old enough to start school the last time India sewed up a Test series in this region.

The two sides lie on different points on the ebb-and-flow curve of cricketing evolution. India, under Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid, has refashioned its play in the abridged format with considerable success: it has won 19 of the last 26 matches, and strung together 16 successive successful chases, a world record wrested incidentally from Clive Lloyd's West Indies of the 1980s. Similar attempts at alchemy in Tests haven't fetched the same results. West Indies, meanwhile, continues unsuccessfully to seek redemption in both forms of the game.

The verve of India's new guard is certain to find favour among the feet-stomping, advice-dispensing Caribbean crowds; the fates of three old favourites — Tendulkar, Kumble, and Dravid — will be followed with as much interest for this might be the last time one of them strides these lands in whites.

Tendulkar, currently recuperating from surgery and reacquainting himself with his bat, might make the Tests and finally exorcise the demons of the diabolical debacle that was Barbados 1997.

Kumble — remembered in the islands as a man of courage, as a man who thought nothing of bowling with a shattered jaw that had been wired to hold up — has little left to prove to anyone. This, however, is his best chance of staking a claim to the World Cup squad. For the magnificent Dravid, the tour presents an opportunity to note down the minutiae: the behaviour of pitches; the angles in small grounds; the shifts in wind during a day; the onset of reverse swing; the degree of turn.

Though in decline for a period both longer and more painful than a hangover its best rum can bring about, West Indies, as Dravid pointed out, is a competitive side at home. India failed to sustain its level of play through every defining moment when it last visited (2002), and consequently, surrendered the Test series. Rationing of concentration on long tours is paramount. The tourists can do worse than address this if they are to leave West Indian shores successful.

The tour provides India a touchstone. Come July and the ODI-congested road to the World Cup would have coiled its way ever closer to its destination. However tempting it is to monitor current form and sandpaper rough edges in the one-day version, Test cricket shouldn't be lost sight of. The schedule of the near two-month long tour, which begins with a warm-up game on May 16, thus assumes interest in terms of both sequence and number.

Sachin Tendulkar-

Five ODIs precede four Tests. The infernal formula of two — at best three — Tests followed by a string of painfully similar ODIs (usually a ridiculous seven) has been set aside, at least temporarily. Thankfully so, for nothing numbs the mind faster. Yet, it's curious that such a schedule should exist given the 2007 World Cup's proximity. More so because the Cup will be held in the Caribbean, and only Australia, which will likely play a series in February next year, has a better opportunity to suss conditions out and acclimatise.

Sequencing ODIs before Tests sets up an intriguing dynamic. India, in its last two series against Pakistan and England, has faltered in the Tests, only to come back strongly in the ODIs, prompting murmurs of how success in the instant format was pushing to the periphery foibles in the longer version. The current sequencing will ensure the aftertaste of the Tests won't be washed away that easily.

Dravid's men — many of whom will be making this trip for the first time — need look no further than the history between the two sides for any inspiration they might seek. It's dotted with evolutionary points of pivot.

The 1970/71 tour, the last series India won in the West Indies, introduced the world to a compact opener who would go on to enrol among the greats. While those 774 runs may have been made against an attack that wasn't quite the menacing, headhunting one of the late 1970s and the 1980s, Sunil Gavaskar announced his arrival.

A batsman and a man ahead of his time, he established a legacy of self-pride and professionalism.

Anil Kumble, old war-horse popular in the Caribbean, was on the last trip, too.-Pics.V.V. KRISHNAN

With Dilip Sardesai (`Sardi Monn' to admiring West Indies fans), Gavaskar showed India could compete with sides that contained greats like Sobers and Kanhai. Ajit Wadekar's team achieved what Indian sides that had toured in 1952/53 and 1961/62 hadn't: a Test win.

At Trinidad, legendary off-spinner S. Venkataraghavan triggered a second innings collapse after left-armer Salim Durrani had turned one into Sobers's stumps to leave India needing 124 for the win. The side hung on to take the series 1-0: a series that saw Wadekar ask Sobers — famously unaware that the margin needed for a follow-on in a match shortened to four days was 150 not 200 — to bat again.

Gavaskar also played crucial roles in the other two points of pivot: the incredible fourth-innings pursuit of 403 at Port of Spain in 1976 and the ODI victory at Berbice, Guyana, in 1983.

SURESH RAINA, YUVRAJ SINGH... the lifeblood of the one-day team.-AP

The first, accomplished primarily against spin, pushed Lloyd towards his pace quartet; the second was the inflection point of a process that climaxed in India's triumph at Lord's that historic June day in 1983.

Returning to the coming tour, India will start the ODIs as favourites. Classical off-spinner Ramesh Powar is merely the latest successful addition to a side that bristles with potential — Yuvraj Singh has courted the kind of form that will make him an all-time great should he continue to woo it; Irfan Pathan regularly nicks out a couple early with swerve, and bats with skill at number three when needed; Suresh Raina has shown why talk of him being the next big thing can be more than just hype.

The only glitches in the one-day scheme of things are bowling at the death, and to a lesser extent, batting blind.

In Tests, however, India has issues in all three departments that need urgent sorting out. Almost in desperation, Dravid has turned to the five-bowler theory to take 20 wickets, and has indicated it will be part of his strategy in Tests abroad.

The close catching needs improvement; it really can't get much worse than the abysmal depths it touched against England. The most noticeable decline has been in defensive batting, never India's strongest flank on tracks with juice.

Though Dravid has found in S. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel two bowlers with the air-speed to cause discomfort, he should guard against over-bowling the pair.

In matters batting, Virender Sehwag has to find his A-game right away, while his partner Wasim Jaffer needs to snap out of the inconsistency that has marred his career.

The middle order — India's supposed strength — has been a let down in recent times; if its other members can emulate what their captain so admirably does, India will not lose the Test series.

THE SCHEDULE May 18: First ODI, Jamaica. May 20: Second ODI, Jamaica. May 23: Third ODI, St. Kitts. May 26: Fourth ODI, Trinidad. May 28: Fifth ODI, Trinidad. June 2-6: First Test, Antigua. June 10-14: Second Test, St. Lucia. June 22-26: Third Test, St. Kitts. June 30-July 4: Fourth Test, Jamaica.