By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published October 24, 2016
The past 10 years have seen a plethora of teams climbing to the top rung of world cricket. West Indies, however, have not sniffed the top for almost 20 years. When will they return?
A few years ago, it was unfathomable to see the Test rankings in cricket without Australia, England or West Indies at the top or in the top-2. However, that is the case now with India and Pakistan firmly affixed at the top rung of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test team rankings. Oh, how the bell tolls for thee.
From the onset of Test cricket in 1877, Australia and England were the premier teams and the only Test teams for the first 12 years. South Africa came to the fore (1889) thereafter followed by the West Indies (1928), New Zealand (1930), and India (1932) in quick succession.
It took West Indies seven years and their fifth series before they won their first Test series. This occurred against England at home in 1935 when they won the four-Test series 2-1. After the war, West Indies as a force in cricket began to emerge. Before the war, it was George Headley against the rest of the world. After the war, it was the “Three Ws” and a young boy called Garry.
After World War II, West Indies won five of their first six Test series: against England twice, India twice and New Zealand. If Australia and England were the top teams in world cricket, West Indies were slowly emerging as the next best team. The team of 1948 through to the early 1950s featured West Indian greats such as George Headley – to the latter end of his career – Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Garry Sobers. West Indies first series win on overseas soil came in 1948 against the then minnows India on the back of Everton Weekes, who scored four centuries and two fifties in seven innings. Sir Everton was a special player and still holds the world record for the most centuries in consecutive innings in Test cricket. Our next overseas series victory came against our colonial masters, the English in 1950. The spin twins, Alfred Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin, came on the scene in that series and jolted the West Indies fortunes mightily against the English.
Two years later, in 1952, Pakistan came on the scene in Test cricket with the likes of future legend Hanif Mohammed. Pakistan for the most part in the 1950s to 1960s was at the bottom rung of Test cricket with India as company. West Indies was in a constant tussle with Australia and England for supremacy with South Africa emerging as a formidable threat to the three-headed throne.
By the 1970s, New Zealand had slumped so low that they passed India and Pakistan on their way down. South Africa was banned from cricket due to apartheid and the playing field began to level with the top teams exchanging victories and defeats. To the latter end of the 1970s and to the 1980s, ‘fire in Babylon’ emerged, as some would put it. West Indies became a force in both Test cricket and – the new format on the block – ODI cricket.
Pakistan and New Zealand joined West Indies as formidable challengers to the Test throne. This saw England and Australia slump, but especially England as they plunged to the minnow depths with India and newcomers Sri Lanka for tow.
The 1990s, South Africa returned to international cricket from a forced exile and it seemed they never left. They and Australia dominated play in the 1990s. It seemed Australia and West Indies were heading in opposite directions: as Australia soared, West Indies nosedived. Zimbabwe came on the scene and became the new minnows with New Zealand in tow joined by England. Simultaneously, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka improved.
By the 2000s, another newcomer broke through with Bangladesh being granted Test status and Australia’s upward thrust to the top of world cricket continued. For the first half of the 2000s, Australia became the third dominant team in Test cricket history, after the likes of the post-WWII Australians and the 1980s West Indians. Australia dominated with legends such as Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and others. Sri Lanka’s steady improvement continued in this period on the backs of Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Sanath Jayasuriya and emerging youngsters Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. England, New Zealand, and India seemingly woke up in this period to level the playing field. Nevertheless, West Indies free-fall continued unabated despite having legends such as Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the cog.
The past ten years have seen a plethora of teams climbing to the top rung or near the top rung in world cricket: Australia, South Africa, England, India, and Pakistan have all laid claim to the number one ranking. New Zealand and to a lesser extent Sri Lanka have threatened, but have not actually achieved it.
West Indies, on the other hand, have not sniffed anywhere near the top of the world for almost 20 years. History is a cycle and the established teams from as far back as 1877 climb up and down the Test rankings. The last two entrants, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been making strides and are on an upswing in performance and to a lesser extent, results.
American novelist and freelance journalist Chuck Palahniuk said in one of his books, Survivor, “There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher. What we can’t understand we call nonsense. What we can’t read we call gibberish. There is no free will. There are no variables.”
If Palahniuk and everyone else who claims that history is a cycle or repetition are right, when will West Indies return to the top of Test cricket? India has laid claim, Pakistan has attained, Australia has remained, when will West Indies reclaim? If anyone knows the answer to this, please let me know, so I can save myself some sleep. Who will be watching the Pakistan vs West Indies Test series with me?
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter whose articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and others.
This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on October 24, 2016.