This team has the potential to succeed

A TRIP to the West Indies. A dream come true for those who aspire to lend a touch of class to their career. I know cricket can be demanding when touring England, Australia or South Africa because of the playing conditions but I must add that a tour to the West Indies can be most exciting, and of course, most exacting.

I have some fond memories of the West Indies. A double century in a Test was what I achieved the last time we went to the Caribbean islands. It was a great moment for me no doubt but then I salute the other Indians who have fared well in the West Indies in the past so many years.

The legendary arrival in international cricket of Sunil Gavaskar in 1971 is the kind of stuff you can only dream of. His debut came in an overseas series and that too in the West Indies. And what a great performance Sunny bhai gave.

I have toured the West Indies twice and met a number of Sunny bhai's fans. We heard tales of his exploits in all the islands and it really made me feel proud. We have amidst us a living legend and it is a great privilege indeed to have known a batsman who conquered the Windies attack.

Whenever I think of the West Indies, I think of how Sunny bhai would have tackled those menacing fast bowlers in their own backyard. It can be the ultimate reward - to succeed in the West Indies because of the conditions and the quality of the attack. Of course, things have changed drastically now but you can never take the West Indies lightly. For proof, I would, with great disappointment, refer to the Bridgetown Test of 1997.

Talking of the West Indies, it can be a great pleasure if you happen to be on a holiday. The unspoilt beaches and blue waters can be so enchanting. But the scenario changes dramatically when you step on to the cricket field.

I would agree with Ravi Shastri who always said that it was a great challenge to do well in the West Indies. The support in the stands could only be one-sided and that can be a big factor. As you take guard and prepare for the strike, a cry from the stands "kill him man, kill him" reminds you of what you are up against. The crowd bays for your blood and the bowler in front obviously tries to exploit the situation. It can get very tough indeed.

I know the decline in the West Indies team has been rapid but there is every possibility the Caribbean charmers could look at a comeback when they play the Indians. The game will benefit immensely from a West Indian revival because they have always been recognised as the greatest crowd-pullers. It is a pity that they play in front of empty stands these days.

Again going back to the West Indies, it was always considered a challenge because of the state of the pitches. In the days of Clive Lloyd's captaincy, the team had a dreaded fast bowling attack and batsmen actually feared playing them because the pressure was relentless. Batsmen of that era are held in high esteem because they had to deal with four quality fast bowlers and scoring off them was a grand feat by any standards.

The nature of pitches in the West Indies has changed completely over the years. In 1997, there was not much bounce or pace in the pitches we played the Test matches on. It was such a contrast from the stories we had heard. Even in 1989, the West Indies had some pitches which offered a lot of help to the bowlers. But it is not the same now and that could be a little comforting for the present lot. I am not trying to cast any aspersions but it is true that no batsman likes to play fast bowling.

I doubt if the current lot will get to play the 'perfume ball' at any centre this time. It can be quite unsettling when the ball repeatedly climbs at your throat and whistles past the nose. We experienced it in a number of series in the past but of late the West Indians have not produced the kind of fast bowlers who would just blow the opposition off with sheer pace. Or should I say intimidation.

The transition period for the West Indies has lasted a bit too long. In fact, even the Indians are involved in the process of building a side for the future and the selection on this tour shows the mindset of the National selectors and the team management. The best possible team has been picked even though there would always be a couple of surprises. Deep Dasgupta for example. His selection cannot be justified at all.

I am looking forward to some great stuff from Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble. These two will have to pull it off this time and break the jinx of India not winning a series overseas for quite some time now. This team has the potential to beat the West Indies in the West Indies. I am sure it will happen this time.

Ganguly has a task at hand but then he has experienced men to support him. Tendulkar, Dravid, Srinath, Kumble and Ganguly will have to take the responsibility and guide the youngsters during their first trip to the West Indies. I am sure the tour will be a great education for some of the players and we shall know at the end of the series who to invest in for the future. The West Indies tour will certainly separate men from the boys, as it has done in the past.

The scenic beaches provide a refreshing change from the volatile Caribbean cricket fields and it is now up to the team to make the best of the conditions and make a mark for itself. A series win in the West Indies will be just the kind of boost that Indian cricket needs.