Sunday afternoon, day four of the fourth Test between West Indies and India: A young couple got out of their car and made for the entry gate to one of the stands at the Queen’s Park Oval. It was shut. They banged on it, waited for someone to come and allow them in, but it didn’t happen.
“Play has been called off,” I told them. “Again?” was their shock reply.
It is easy to understand their response. Yes, this is the monsoon season in Trinidad and grey clouds have been hovering over the island nation every afternoon. It "rains heavily" daily; at times "pouring" or "bucketing down" replaces that word/phrase, explaining the pounding the ground here takes.
And then it goes away too, the clouds flying off to the ocean or Tobago to let down some moisture. Bottom-line is that the streets and roads, playgrounds and backyards, dry up quickly here, creating a false sense in that couple – and many others who had travelled from the United States and England – that Sunday afternoon cricket should be their priority.
Little did they know that the ground staff didn’t bother covering the bowlers’ run-ups when rain first came during lunch on day one. Or, that there were only so many covers available to protect the square and not even an extra inch of the outfield. Or, that the Queen’s Park Cricket Club celebrated its 125th anniversary this past weekend, but hasn’t invested in a Super Sopper despite hosting its 60th Test.
Even the umpires only showed an interest on day three, urging the ground staff to bring extra covers to protect the bowlers’ run-up areas. New techniques – digging up the surface and blow-drying – were engaged, but this was too little too late. The ground had been left to the mercy of the weather for quite long, and it took toll.
The Club, and the West Indies Cricket Board, might just make the argument that the monsoon season was always fraught with danger to host Tests. Indeed, two whole days in the last two matches were washed out as well, but both Sabina Park and the Daren Sammy Stadium hadn’t received as much rainfall in the preceding days. The water table here was unreasonably high, and thus moisture didn’t leave the surface at all.
It begs the question though. At any moment in the planning stage, did the WICB take these factors into account? Perhaps not, seeing how the fourth Test petered down to a farcical draw. It is symptomatic of the cold shoulder this longer format of the game receives here. Would the Caribbean Premier League be allowed to suffer a similar fate? Who cares, you want to shrug and wonder aloud, for a handful Sunday spectators do not compare to the hoards that line-up for T20 action.
Meanwhile, it was clear on day two itself that the ground had become too soggy to allow play, especially with the lack of proper attention from the ground staff. As such, it was only a daily routine as per ICC norms that all concerned parties gathered early in the morning, only for play to be called off before lunch. On day five, Monday, it happened as early as 9.30 am – the scheduled time for start of play.
Did that put West Indies out of their misery? Maybe, or maybe not, as there are different ways to read the lunch score of 62/2 on day one. However, the series score-line of 2-0 does full justification to the advantage India held for almost the entire tour. “I think it should have been 1-0, and not 2-0. We shouldn’t have lost in St Lucia,” said home coach Phil Simmons.
That was the minimum expectation, despite folding up in the first innings of the third Test. Only a week prior, the same batting line-up had shown resilience on day five in Kingston and fought for a draw. They should have done it in the third Test as well, only they did not, and what could have been a story of progress was once again of regression.
The "intent" factor
India won this series without breaking a sweat then, achieving what they had set out to do on the first assignment in this long-haul Test season. Virat Kohli and his boys never got out of third gear. In Antigua, they sleepwalked to the victory line. Twice, in Jamaica and Trinidad, they were beaten by conditions, not the hosts. And on the one occasion they needed to shift gears, in St Lucia, they managed it too without much ado, showcasing amply the "intent" factor.
That word is one cynics will like to clutch on, seeing as Pakistan are now the No. 1 ranked side in the Test rankings. Yes, different members of the Indian squad have admitted to going for that target, but none of them see it as a short-term one. Their contention isn’t in stealing it away from Australia, or snatching it from their arch-rivals in a desperate bid.
Instead, it is about consistent performance through 13 Tests against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. Through chopping and changing, and trying out different permutations and combinations of their playing eleven, they have tested varied pulse points, and thoroughly checked their preparedness. It was the one underlying purpose of this trip.
Now, with the West Indies tour crossed off, team India can bed in for the home season, and make a go for the No. 1 ranking in earnest.