October 29, 2010

Bowling West Indies' biggest worry

The batting has slipped a bit too, but West Indies' attack has been the worst in Test cricket over the last three years

In a little over two weeks West Indies will be taking on a challenge that is among the toughest in Test cricket: a tour to Sri Lanka. The magnitude of the task before West Indies is obvious from the following two stats: in the last six years, Sri Lanka's win-loss record at home is next only to Australia's; meanwhile, West Indies' away record during this period is the worst among all teams (excluding Zimbabwe, who've only played four away Tests during this period).

That West Indies have fallen from the lofty perch they occupied in the 1980s and 90s is obvious, but what still boggles the mind is the extent to which they've slipped. According to the ICC rankings, they're seventh in Tests - barely above New Zealand - and eighth in ODIs, only a few decimal points better than Bangladesh. Since January 2004, they've won a mere five Tests, and never more than one in any given year. During this period they've lost 37, which has ensured that their overall win-loss ratio has dipped below one (152 wins, 154 losses in 465 matches). After the three Tests in Sri Lanka, it's almost certain that the gap between wins and losses will increase further.

The table below lists West Indies' year-wise performances in Tests since 2000. What is immediately apparent is the manner in which their bowling has completely fallen away since Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose retired: in every year since 2003, the bowling average for West Indies has exceeded 40, which is a shocking stat for a team who, not that long ago, used to boast some of the greatest fast bowlers to have ever played the game. During this period their batting average has been at least 10 fewer than their bowling average every year, while the batting average has exceeded 30 only once, in 2004. The last four years have been poor, and the two heavy defeats against South Africa in 2010 means the difference this year is nearly 25.

West Indies in Tests since 2000
Year Tests Won/ Lost Ratio Bat ave Bowl ave Diff
2000 14 4/ 7 0.57 20.45 27.14 -6.69
2001 11 2/ 6 0.33 28.31 35.04 -6.73
2002 14 4/ 6 0.67 29.65 33.42 -3.77
2003 10 3/ 5 0.60 29.94 45.11 -15.17
2004 12 1/ 8 0.12 32.20 42.68 -10.48
2005 11 1/ 8 0.12 27.37 41.88 -14.51
2006 10 0/ 5 0.00 28.59 40.85 -12.26
2007 5 1/ 3 0.33 25.96 40.39 -14.43
2008 9 1/ 5 0.20 28.47 42.75 -14.28
2009 12 1/ 6 0.16 28.76 44.95 -16.19
2010 3 0/ 2 0.00 25.36 49.73 -24.37

In the last three years West Indies' bowling average has been the worst among all teams, including Bangladesh. In these 24 Tests they've conceded nearly 45 runs per wicket. Kemar Roach is the only one of their bowlers who has taken more than 25 wickets during this period at an average of less than 30. Sulieman Benn, the highest wicket-taker, with 50, averages more than 40 runs per wicket.

Team-wise bowling averages in Tests since Jan 2008
Team Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
South Africa 28 462 30.58 57.2 15/ 2
England 36 571 31.67 61.4 29/ 3
Australia 35 601 32.79 61.8 20/ 3
New Zealand 25 381 34.99 69.7 10/ 0
Pakistan 17 254 35.35 63.8 12/ 0
Sri Lanka 20 302 36.66 67.4 15/ 3
India 30 447 38.46 72.4 12/ 2
Bangladesh 19 231 44.11 76.7 12/ 0
West Indies 24 299 44.60 81.1 10/ 0

The sorry state of West Indies' bowling attack is further illustrated by checking out the averages of their highest wicket-takers in the last eight years. Only eight bowlers have taken more than 50 Test wickets during this period, of which two - Corey Collymore and Pedro Collins - have managed sub-35 averages. All the others have had to toil much more, with the averages for five of them either closing in on, or exceeding, 40. During the golden years in the 1980s, all eight bowlers who took more than 50 wickets in the decade did so at averages of less than 30. That's obviously a feat that can't be achieved in today's bat-dominated era, but West Indian fans would be justified in expecting from their bowlers significantly better numbers than they are managing currently.

West Indies bowlers in Tests since 2003 (Qual: 50 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Corey Collymore 29 92 31.46 66.2 4/ 1
Pedro Collins 15 52 33.00 59.0 1/ 0
Jerome Taylor 29 82 35.64 60.1 3/ 0
Dwayne Bravo 37 83 39.39 74.2 2/ 0
Fidel Edwards 43 122 39.43 59.5 8/ 0
Sulieman Benn 15 50 40.92 85.1 3/ 0
Chris Gayle 60 64 41.90 95.2 2/ 0
Daren Powell 33 73 50.87 86.3 1/ 0

The batting has suffered too, but the decline hasn't been as pronounced when compared to their numbers in earlier decades. Comparing West Indies' decade-wise batting stats since 1970 shows that their batting average dropped from 33.05 in the 1980s to 27.89 in the 1990s, and it stayed there between 2000 and 2009. The bowling, on the other hand, has been in freefall.

Decade-wise batting and bowling stats for West Indies
Decade Tests Bat ave 100s/ 50s Bowl ave Strike rate
1970s 63 34.54 68/ 147 33.49 80.3
1980s 82 33.05 75/ 172 25.02 56.8
1990s 81 27.89 55/ 162 29.23 64.5
2000s 108 27.89 94/ 233 38.45 74.6
2010 3 25.36 2/ 6 49.73 101.6

While the bowling has little to recommend itself, the batting has at least offered something to cheer about. When they have played, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan have all been among the runs. Chanderpaul has clearly been the leader, averaging almost 65 since 2008 and almost 54 since 2003. Those are easily stats that compare favourably with the best batsmen in the world, something that can't be said for any of West Indies' bowlers during the last 10 years.

However, despite these few batting stars, West Indies' overall batting stats over the last three years are among the worst when compared to other teams. Part of the reason for this has been the absence of top players for some matches recently. Despite this, their overall batting average in these three years is better than those of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Darren Sammy, the new captain, has promised a fresh approach in Sri Lanka, but given the lack of bowling firepower, especially in the sort of conditions that are likely to prevail in Sri Lanka, West Indies' bowlers could be in for another hiding. How well the batsmen perform could well decide how much they push Sri Lanka.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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