Away from the main stage, West Indies are starting a quiet Test resurgence
@ovshake42 5 minute read
The West Indies, having won three of their last four Test series, are not to be underestimated, writes Abhishek Mukherjee.
The West Indies were expected to win their Test series in Zimbabwe. What was perhaps not on the cards was how their new generation – first Tagenarine Chanderpaul (albeit with Kraigg Brathwaite), then Gudakesh Motie – rewrote the record books.
This is not to say that Chanderpaul or Motie have already surpassed their predecessors. The Greenidge-Haynes legacy was not built in a season. Sonny Ramadhin’s feat transcended the limited confines of the cricket field.
What is pertinent here is the fact that neither Chanderpaul nor Motie had played Test cricket a year ago. Over the past decade and a half – and a bit more – cricket in the West Indies has been staring into a deep abyss. A mismatch in financial expectations have led cricketers to go on strike at times, with some even quitting playing for the islands altogether.
The rise and spread of franchise-based Twenty20 leagues around the world pulled the West Indians away from Test cricket. For a while, the trend had seemed irreversible. Strings of defeats, home and away, did not help; neither did the empty stands in front of which they played.
Throughout the 2010s, the West Indies won 22 Test matches and lost 43. If one left out Afghanistan and Ireland, Test cricket’s newest entrants, only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe had a worse win-loss ratio than their 0.511.
The slide seemed irreversible. Yet, since 2021, the numbers – seven wins, seven defeats – looks surprisingly, perhaps deceptively, optimistic. A win-loss ratio of exactly 1 is not outstanding by any definition, but it is better than what Sri Lanka (0.857) and New Zealand (0.833) have achieved over this period.
Over this period, the West Indies have beaten Bangladesh home (2-0) and away (2-0); England at home (1-0); and in Zimbabwe (1-0). They have also drawn against Pakistan (1-1) and Sri Lanka (0-0) at home.
For perspective, none of Australia, England, New Zealand, and South Africa have won their last Test series in Bangladesh. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and South Africa have all lost their last home series against England. And despite their limited opportunities, Zimbabwe have held Sri Lanka to a draw and beaten Pakistan at home over the last ten years.
In other words, over their past two years, the West Indies have achieved what some sides ranked above them – or with a superior win-loss ratio over this period – have managed to.
But that is only part of the story.
Some of the architects of the West Indies’ success over this period have been cricketers who have debuted in the last five years. Since his 40 and unbeaten fourth-innings 210 on debut in Chattogram, Kyle Mayers has crossed 40 in four consecutive innings against Sri Lanka, got another hundred against Bangladesh, and taken wickets in inexpensive bursts of twos and threes, and even a five-for against England.
Chanderpaul is yet to look out of place at the highest level. Josh Da Silva has impressed on either side of the stumps, never more so than with last year’s hundred against England in St George’s, setting up a famous series win. When Test cricket resumed two years ago, Shamarh Brooks impressed all with his twin fifties at Old Trafford. Nkrumah Bonner has hundreds against Sri Lanka and England.
In Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, and Jason Holder, the West Indies have a formidable pace attack, while Jayden Seales is a promising youngster. The problem was to have all of them fit at the same time. However, Gabriel’s return to the side after over a year to reunite with Roach is almost certain to get the pace attack back on track.
In the 23 Test matches Roach, Gabriel, and Holder (who also boasts of a double hundred) have played together, they have between them snared 218 wickets at 27.60 – formidable numbers for a trio that is not considered in the league of some other three-men attacks in history.
Motie’s arrival, and his eventual pairing with Roston Chase, will ensure they have the spinners to back the pacers – or boost them by including Joseph.
Amidst all this, there is Kraigg Brathwaite, now almost in his 13th year as a Test cricketer yet without having the curious record of never having played a single Twenty20 match at any level. The average of 35.59 is mediocre, but since 2022, it reads 64.35 across 17 innings.
Of late, Brathwaite has led the West Indies to Test wins with whoever the selectors gave him amidst the continuous process of exodus of talent. Oft-used cliches like “leads from the front” and “glues the team together” are not lost on him.
Of course, these are still early days, and a two-year sample size is far from being significant enough to hint at a full-blown resurgence. Yet, the results do look positive, and there is reason for the West Indian fans to hope.