“I didn’t imagine I would live to see an Indian fast bowler [Bumrah] ruling the world.” That is pretty high praise coming from a man who has had the first-hand experience of witnessing the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Sylvester Clarke, Joel Garner, Sir Curtly Ambrose breathe fire and terrorize the opposition batters for two decades: Sir Viv Richards. The fire in the Babylone, they used to say it back in the good old days.
Richards has also witnessed what is now immortal in the annals of folklore as the “Bloodbath at Sabina” and for which Sunny Gavaskar has devoted an entire chapter in his book Sunny Days titled ‘Barbarism in Kingston‘.
It was the summer of 1976. Clive Lloyd’s West Indies had been beaten comprehensively 1-5 during their last trip Down Under. To rub salt to Lloyd’s wounds, an inspired Indian unit then proceeded to shellack his bowling attack to the tune of a record-breaking 404 in the fourth innings at Trinidad. Lloyd had clearly had enough. It was time for redemption. It was time to take the matter at hand and show the world who really was the king in the jungle. According to the documentary Fire in Babylone, the drubbing at the hands of Australia had made Lloyd declare “Never again.”
So, what does the legendary skipper do? Unleash the fury of his pace quarter on the rest of the word; the first casualty, unfortunately, being the Indians in the succeeding Test at Sabina Park. The communication to the bowlers was simple, and to put it the words of the fans: ‘Aim for the head, maan’.
West Indies vs India, Sabina Park, 1976
The decision by Lloyd would go on to define the legacy of the West Indian sides of the 1970s and 1980s but at the time it came under scrutiny for the tactics employed on an uneven track masquerading as a Test match pitch at Jamaica. “Aim for his head, maan”, “Kill him, maan” , “Take him down, Mike!” as Sunil Gavaskar recounted in his book Sunny days were the cheers from the local crowd every time Michael Holding or Daniel peppered the Indians with their thunderbolts as if they were baying for their blood.
What followed at Jamaica was mayhem. Such was the brutality of the Windies quartet that the Indian captain [Read: Bishen Bedi] had to declare his team’s 2nd innings because he had more batsmen on a hospital bed than in the dressing room.
Fast forward to 2019 and at the same venue, the locals were looking in awe at an Indian fast bowler who was making their own batters dance to the tune of his sustained hostility aggression, pace, and craft; one who they now think as one of their own from the golden era. The whole Caribbean- including the erstwhile legends like Roberts, Richards, and Sir Curtly Ambrose- is gushing about the boy called Boom. Jasprit Bumrah. Bumrah, at the moment, is an IronMan with all infinity stones studded gauntlet. He uses the time stones and churns out five-fers at will. Inswinger. Outswinger. The ability to move the ball off the air and off the seam at sustained pace coupled by a very good short ball; one of them unfortunately concussing Bravo out of the match.
And, when someone of the stature of Sir Curtly Ambrose says “he could have been one of us”, for an Indian fan of a certain vintage, who saw that ‘Bloodbath at Sabina’ or the other numerous instances when their batters were terrorized by the Calypso quartet with unrelenting pace and hostility, it is a turnaround for the ages; a turnaround no one in their wildest dreams saw coming, let alone the West Indians.
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