Since going down famously in a home series to Australia back in 1995, West Indies have suffered 120 losses in their 240 Test matches and won just 55.
The record is poorer when we account for matches against the traditional top 8 sides: 120 losses and just 35 wins from 211 Tests. Away from home or in neutral venues against the same quality of oppositions, West Indies have performed even worse: losing 81 and winning just 9 of their 109 Tests in this period.
West Indies’ decline from an all-conquering force in world cricket to a team that seldom competes has been truly heartbreaking. A generation has grown up seeing the Calypso Kings struggle at the highest level of the game.
Much is talked about West Indies’ steep downfall from the days of unprecedented glory to the lowest of lows as an international side.
Jeffrey Dujon, the former wicketkeeper-batsman, who was part of a world-dominating West Indies side, has been quite vocal that the region is hurting from the lack of proper cricketing development across islands during his playing days.
Dujon maintains, when they were regularly defeating the rest of the world teams under Clive Lloyd or Vivian Richards, cricket administrators in the West Indies did little to ensure that they have a pipeline of ready talent available to carry the baton forward when those legends retired.
West Indies also lost much of their talent on the fringes in those days to the rebel tours of South Africa, as those Caribbean players touring the country during the apartheid days were handed lifetime bans.
That’s more of what went wrong in the past. In modern-days, West Indies have tended to lose talented players for the international stage because of other avenues like domestic T20 leagues around the globe or the lure of the Kolpak deals in the UK. The financial security that a West Indies player enjoys being a T20 freelancer is hardly there for him if he is committed to just the top-level game.
More and more young West Indies players are driven to become T20 stars and mould their games accordingly at a critical age in their development, compromising on the technique and the mental make-up required to become successful Test cricketers. These players, batsmen especially, struggle at the first-class level and progress through to the Test level without carrying acceptable averages and tools required to succeed against quality attacks.
For a while now, West Indies have depended more on flawed, imperfect and inconsistent performers than robust talents that will serve them for long in Test cricket.
Having said that, the glimmer of hope hasn’t deserted for West Indies in the last four-five years, where they have scalped, albeit only occasionally, some fine Test match wins against England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This small but sure revival began under Jason Holder’s captaincy tenure.
Jason Holder’s captaincy
Holder took over the reigns in Test cricket back in 2015 when West Indies cricket seemed on the verge of a collapse. Holder provided West Indies with a level of stability they needed and although they remained more of also-rans than winners, it was clear that the new leader is having some positive influence.
Holder oversaw 11 Test wins for West Indies to go with 21 losses. The fast-bowling all-rounder also grew as a cricketer in the latter half of his leadership days. Holder, from a struggler in either department, become one of the world’s premier Test all-rounders.
While flourishing as a cricketer himself and only expanding his limits, Holder remained mindful of his team’s multiple shortcomings and felt more comfortable taking the defensive route as skipper than the attacking one.
At a time when Test teams are surer of coming out victorious if they batted first than otherwise, Holder often chose to bowl first upon winning the tosses, a part of his captaincy that was widely criticised. His idea was to not leave the onus on his vulnerable batting line-ups on fresh pitches, instead get into games by trying to dismiss the opponent cheaply. It didn’t work more often than not, and that added to the scrutiny on Holder.
Last year, after an inspirational win in Southampton, West Indies went down heavily on successive Test tours in England and New Zealand. For the following tour, earlier this year in Bangladesh, Holder opted out and that gave Kraigg Brathwaite the opening as a stand-in captain.
It seems, being removed as captain hasn’t hurt Holder as much as it has relieved him from the pressure he was feeling. The 29-year-old was seen having a big laugh and sledging Sri Lanka batsman Dhananjaya de Silva in Antigua, something not seen from him before at all. Holder, who has a quiet personality, has rarely shown his emotions on the field. Against Dhananjaya, however, Holder was having a really go and trying his best to mentally disintegrate him at the crease.
Can we expect West Indies’ resurgence under Kraigg Brathwaite?
In Bangladesh, where they had lost 2-0 on their last trip back in 2018, West Indies were deemed set to suffer the same fate on turning pitches. It was felt that the Calypso Kings, who had reached there without many of their first-choice players, will be absolutely destroyed in the two-match series.
However, against massive odds, Brathwaite’s men caught the emerging Asian rivals by surprise, as they clinched unexpected victories in Dhaka and Chattogram. And in reward, Brathwaite, the longstanding opening batsman, was given West Indies’ Test captaincy on a full-time basis.
Since taking over, the stoic and determined individual hasn’t put a foot wrong, with West Indies carrying forward their good work from Bangladesh and holding their own against Sri Lanka in a home series.
And so, is this a sign of things to come, will West Indies retain their success from recent weeks against bigger teams and go back to their glory days?
While a definite answer to that may lie in the future, it would be wise to keep our optimism in check when it comes to the West Indies. At the end of the day, the game in the region is still hurting from a lot of major issues and till those are resolved, the Calypso boys will seize to be the Kings they were. Brathwaite, like Holder was having to, will be required to manage around multiple problems, his team’s shortcomings and ensure that they remain competitive despite them.
A return to the days where they destroyed whoever came in their way might be an expectation too far-fetched. The more realistic aim for West Indies would be to become close to a mid-table side, capable of beating mid-table opponents regularly. It would be unfair on West Indies and Brathwaite to expect them to suddenly rebegun beating the likes of Australia, New Zealand, India, especially away from home. Pragmatic, it would rather be, to focus on gradual improvement across all departments and hoping in time to compete against major sides more regularly.
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