It was the third Test of the 1997 series between India and West Indies – series still level. The Barbados crowd had been treated to a crackerjack match. West Indies had first made 298, and then India, from 253 for 3, had been dismissed for 319.
That slender lead assumed significant proportions on a difficult pitch when Curtly Ambrose came out to bat at 91 for 7. West Indies were just 70 ahead at that stage. It would soon become 95 for 8. And half-an-hour later, 107 for 9.
With no pretensions to batting, Mervyn Dillon, who retired from Tests with a batting average of 9, came out to bat. This was only his second Test match and he was yet to score a Test run. West Indies were just 86 ahead at the time, and India would have been seeing visions of their first Test win in the Caribbean in 21 years.
But, along with Ambrose, with a tail-ender’s abandon, Dillon played more freely than any batsman had dared to in the match. Twenty three minutes of batting produced the highest partnership of the innings – 33 runs.
Dillon made 21 of those, hitting three boundaries and one six. Only Tendulkar had managed a six in the whole match (when he made 92 in the first innings).
Ambrose remained not out with 18 off 30 balls in an hour’s batting. West Indies set India 120 to win, and the last half-an-hour had really seemed a jolly formality.
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have. Just five years ago, at this same venue, South Africa, playing their first Test after readmission, had been cruising at 122 for 2 at the start of the last day’s play, needing 79 more to win. They went on to lose their last eight wickets for 26 runs – the origins of ‘choking’ there itself, perhaps.
Still, with a settled batting line-up, that had Sidhu, Tendulkar and Azharuddin with proven new talent such as Dravid and Ganguly alongside them (and a green VVS Laxman), India would have felt optimistic.
But, next morning, Ian Bishop, Franklyn Rose and Ambrose ran through a palpably panic-stricken Indian batting and dismissed them for 81. With the sole exception of VVS Laxman, who scored 19 in 77 minutes of batting, no Indian batsman reached double figures.
Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly would call this the worst moment of their career at different times in the future.
With the next two Tests being severely rain affected, this would turn out to be the only result Test of the series.
This enabled two West Indians to make an interesting kind of history. Both Ambrose and Dillon (with batting averages of 12 and 9 respectively) became the lowest impact batsmen in Test history to register
With career batting failure rates of 93% and 95%, it is curious that Ambrose and Dillon could count this moment as amongst their most significant in their Test career.
This was West Indies’ second home Test series after they lost the status of the world’s best team in 1995 to Australia. They wouldn’t have known it then, but they were not destined to lose any other home series till March 2001. This was only the second of that 7-series unbeaten streak at home.
Two bowlers with bats in their hands helped them eke out this one.
Jaideep Varma/ Soham Sarkhel
NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.