The decline and fall of the West Indies cricket team
India will fancy its chances against West Indies, a team that is only a pale shadow of its glorious past
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As India readies to take the field against the West Indies on Friday, the world dominance of the latter will only be a distant memory. From being world-beaters, the West Indies team today struggles to even qualify for key tournaments, such as the just-concluded Champions Trophy.
The decline of West Indies’ cricket has been in the making for long, but it has accelerated over the past two decades, at a time when India’s graph has been rising. No wonder then that India’s win-loss ratio has improved dramatically since the mid-1990s.
West Indies was the first cricketing team to tour independent India for a Test series. It was another 22 years before India ever beat the Calypso champions. That happened in Port of Spain in 1971. It was the maiden test match of young Sunil Gavaskar, which India won by seven wickets, and with a day to spare.
Nonetheless, the West Indies team dominated for most of the 1970s, and even beyond. India’s win-loss ratio was only around the 0.3 mark as late as the mid-1990s. Since then, it has rocketed upwards to 0.8.
The win-loss ratio measures the number of matches won for every match lost. India’s win-loss ratio against West Indies in the current decade is much higher at 2.67. The overall win-loss ratio is lower only because of the impressive win record of the West Indies in earlier decades.
Even the home advantage is slipping, with the West Indies able to win only a quarter of the matches against India in its own turf.
The decline of the West Indies team has been an all-round one. The batting average of the top West Indies’ batsmen has steadily declined even as that of the rest of the world has improved over the past few decades. The gap between the top batsmen of the world and the top batsmen of West Indies is at its widest since at least the 1950s. Only test match records have been used for comparing batting averages to ensure comparability over time.
The analysis is based on the averages of players at the 90th percentile in each decade. The player at the 90th percentile is a reliable proxy for a top player as his batting average is better than roughly 90% of the batsmen who have played in that decade. For instance, among the 54 players who played during the 1970s for the team, and whose records are available, only seven have an average higher than the 90th percentile value of 46.73. These top players include the likes of Vivian Richards, Gary Sobers and Gordon Greenidge. At that time, the performance of top players of the West Indies’ was far superior to that of the rest of the world but the tide turned in the 1990s.
The comparison of bowlers at the 90th percentile in West Indies with those in the rest of the world shows a similar picture of decline.
India will surely fancy its chances against a depleted West Indies attack, which once boasted fearsome fast bowlers such as Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. One of their key bowlers, Shannon Gabriel, is injured. The rest of the bowling is uninspiring.
Even the batting line-up doesn’t include any notable names although players such as Evin Lewis and Kieran Powell can hit the ball hard.
As for the future of West Indies cricket, unless they are able to fix structural problems such as a dispute between players and the cricket board over contracts, West Indies’ cricket team will continue to be a pale shadow of its past.