Monday 31 March 1997 was a dark day in the history of Indian cricket and definitely the worst of my captaincy career. And yet it had promised so much. In fact, over dinner at a restaurant in St Lawrence Gap in Barbados the night before, I remember having a joke with the waiter, who was predicting a West Indian win. He was confident that Ambrose would bounce India out the next morning. Now, in the first innings of this match, Franklyn Rose had bowled me a bouncer and I had pulled him into the stands for six. So I reminded the waiter of the shot and jokingly said to him that if Ambrose tried to bowl me a bouncer, I would hit him all the way to Antigua. I was so confident of our chances that I pointed to the fridge and said he should immediately chill a bottle of champagne and I would come and open it the next day and pour him a glass to celebrate winning the match.
Instead, we collapsed for a miserable 81 all out, handing the West Indies a 38-run victory. Frankly, there can be no excuses for such a poor batting effort, even though it was a difficult track. I certainly don’t want to point fingers at anyone for the defeat, as that’s not my way. In any case, I was part of that team and as captain it was my responsibility to steer us to victory. I did not get the feeling that we were over-confident, yet none of the batsmen apart from Laxman even reached double figures in the second innings and it was one of the worst batting displays I have been part of.
I myself got out for just four. In my anxiety to get a feel for the ball I got a tentative edge. I should either have left the ball alone or tried to counter-attack. The defeat left me totally devastated and I shut myself in my room for two whole days trying to come to terms with the loss. I still feel the pangs of that defeat when I look back at the series.
After eventually losing the five-Test series 0–1, we went on to lose the ODI series as well. The good start to the tour had given way to a complete lack of application and that proved catastrophic in the end. The best example of this ineptitude was the third one-day game, at St Vincent, where we needed 47 runs to win off the last ten overs with six wickets in hand. Rahul and Sourav had set up the platform and we should have strolled to victory. Again and again I instructed the batsmen not to go for big shots and to play along the ground, saying there was no need for any risk-taking with the asking rate under five runs an over. However, all our middle- and lower-order batsmen kept playing the ball in the air. The loss of a few wickets resulted in panic, which in turn led to a number of suicidal run-outs. It was infuriating to see the team lose from a winning situation.
At the end of the match I called a team meeting and lost my cool in the dressing room. I spoke from my heart and said the performance was unacceptable. I said that losing matches in which the opposition play better cricket is one thing— I had no problem with such defeats — but losing a match that we had completely under control suggested there was something seriously wrong with the team.
I was extremely upset with the way we were playing and both Anil and Srinath came to my room in the evening to try and calm me down. Anil said that I should not blame myself for the defeats and that we would learn from the mistakes we had made in South Africa and the West Indies. However, things were really starting to get on top of me. I hated losing and as captain of the team I felt responsible for the string of miserable performances.
More worryingly, I did not know how I could turn it around, as I was already trying my absolute best.
Not long after the series was over, I confided in Anjali that I feared there was nothing more that I could do to stem the tide of defeats. Losing a string of very close matches had left me badly scarred. I had given it everything and was not sure that I could give even 0.1 per cent more. The fact that we failed to chase down 120 had nothing to do with lack of talent. It was because we batted horribly on the day. It was hurting me badly and it took me a long time to come to terms with these failures. I even contemplated moving away from the sport completely, as it seemed nothing was going my way. Anjali, as usual, managed to put things in perspective and assured me that things would surely get better in the months to come. Looking back, it was just frustration getting the better of me.