We do not perform when it counts

The problem appears to be with the mind-set of the Indians. When it comes to winning a Test series outside the sub-continent, they just do not appear to have enough belief in themselves.

This was one series, against a mediocre West Indian team, that they should have able to clinch. However, whenever the contest was in the balance during the crucial third and fifth Tests, it was the West Indians who managed to get their noses ahead.

Looking back, the Indians had a wonderful chance to nail the series after taking the lead in Port of Spain, but instead of dishing out assertive, confident cricket, they allowed the Caribbeans to claw their way back.

We do not perform when it counts. A problem that continues to haunt Indian cricket. When the situation demands that little extra from the players, they invariably come up short.

Individually, the contributions from some of our leading cricketers might be alright, but collectively they are just not able to pull the side through. It sends the wrong message.

Before the Test series against England, it is important for the team-management to have a lengthy dialogue with the cricketers on the specific issue of mental toughness. An essential requisite for performing under pressure.

Unless the Indians display dramatic improvement on the mental front, they are unlikely to gain much success abroad, whatever be the quality of our players. When confronted by adversity, the Indians appear to give in much too easily.

There were several instances during the five-Test series that highlighted this major shortcoming in the Indians. In Barbados and Jamaica, there was a little more bounce for the pacemen. The Indian batsmen failed to cope with the challenge. Runs have little meaning unless they make a difference to the team's fortunes.

Similarly, when our pacemen had the opportunity to operate first on a lively Sabina Park surface in the decider, they surrendered the advantage with some wayward bowling. They could have reaped the rewards by just adhering to the basics.

It would be unfair to blame Sourav Ganguly for inserting the opposition. He was let down by his pacemen.

Ironically, the Indian pace trio of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra had bowled so well for a major portion of the series. And they showed a vast improvement on the second innings of the Kingston Test.

It was too late by then. Their side was out of the game after allowing the West Indians to score over 400 runs on a pitch where a score of around 250-275 would have been par for the course.

The point is the Indians just cannot afford to let their guard down during the crunch times. That is when they have to concentrate that much harder, show their resilience. Instead, they invariably cave in to the pressure.

Similarly, the Indians failed to latch on to the catches during the key stages of the series, and Carl Hooper did benefit greatly from this generosity. The standard of Indian catching and fielding left much to be desired.

In contrast, the West Indians, who were desperate for a victory, found the right men for the right situation. Whenever the side was in a spot of bother, captain Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, batting at No. 5 and 6, not only bailed the side out, but also put it in a position of strength.

It was a useful right-left combination, but the Indians seemed to run out of ideas. It has been noticed series after series that the Indians allow some players to dominate a series. The list is rather long in the last few years - Andy Flower, Matthew Hayden, Mahela Jayawardene, and now Hooper and Chanderpaul. What is the think-tank doing?

For the West Indies, the biggest gain from the series was that it actually managed to win without a big contribution from superstar Brian Lara, who struggled with his form. This is a healthy sign for cricket in the Caribbean.

Youngsters like Gayle, Hinds and Sarwan have a fair amount of talent in them and, if groomed properly, could serve the West Indies team for a long time to come.

Coming to the West Indian attack, the side managed to win the series with just one strike bowler - Dillon. He was the only Caribbean paceman who could be quick on the odd occasion, and did make the early inroads right through the series.

Cuffy was accurate, and new boy Sanford, though erratic, was still able to pick up some valuable wickets. Collins, the left-armer, scalped Tendulkar more than once, and he certainly brought in variety to the attack.

The West Indian selectors certainly got it right when they picked four pacemen after the first Test. That is the right way to go against India, especially away from the sub-continent. Among the Indian batsmen, Rahul Dravid, solid yet again at the crucial No.3 slot, and V.V.S. Laxman did their reputation no harm. This was an important series for Laxman, who was actually left out of the Delhi Test against Zimbabwe, India's last Test before the series in the Caribbean.

Laxman was consistent without compromising on his shot-making skills, and if his display in the Caribbean is any indication, should stay in the side for a long time. His talent has never really been in question, and in the West Indies, he revealed that temperamentally, he has come on a lot in recent times.

Ganguly had problems with short-pitched bowling early on, but to his credit, handled the rising deliveries much better as the series progressed. Little went right for opener Shiv Sundar Das and his confidence appears to have taken a beating at the moment.

On the other hand, Wasim Jaffer, who was sound off the back-foot, impressed at the top of the order and he is a young batsman who should be persisted with. However, the form of Das is worrying and it might not be a bad idea to have another look at Sadagopan Ramesh. He performed creditably during his last Test series, in Sri Lanka last year, and deserves one more chance.

Sachin Tendulkar came up with a couple of fine innings, but it was a forgettable series for him, by his own high standards. I am sure he would love to play the role of a match-winner in Tests, something he is eminently capable of.

Young wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra was tidy behind the stumps and produced a spunky hundred in Antigua. He was a definite gain for India from the series. Harbhajan Singh took a few disappointments in his stride and came up with an eight-wicket match haul in the final Test, going past the 100-Test-wicket landmark in the process. He is a much better off-spinner when he gives the ball air.

Harbhajan's spin partner Kumble turned in a brave performance in the Antigua Test, when he made a dramatic entry into the arena and bowled with his jaw wired. It was a heroic display, yet, sadly, even that failed to inspire the Indians in the decisive encounter.