Happy venue for Chanderpaul and Ponting
In times gone by, a Test series between West Indies and Australia would have evinced plenty of interest. Now, thanks to the state of West Indies cricket, most experts and fans expect Australia to win the series comfortably, even though they had a tough time in the ODIs and the T20Is, only managing to share those series. The reason for the pessimism is clear: West Indies have been a poor Test side for a while now, and even their home record has taken a beating recently. Since they last played a home series against Australia, in 2008, West Indies have won only two out of 15 home Tests, and lost series against Bangladesh, India and South Africa. Apart from beating England in 2009, their one bright spark was winning a Test against Pakistan in a drawn series last year.
Given these recent stats, and the unavailability of a few key players for West Indies, Australia will feel pretty confident of taking the series, especially after giving India a drubbing in their last Test series.
The recent head-to-head record between these two teams is also overwhelmingly in favour of Australia - they have a 15-1 win-loss record against West Indies since 2000, and 5-1 in the West Indies during this period. This recent run has meant West Indies no longer have a winning record against Australia at home - it's now slipped to 17-14 in favour of Australia.
|Tests||Aus won||WI won||Drawn/ Tied|
|In West Indies||45||17||14||14/ 0|
|Since 2000||18||15||1||2/ 0|
|In West Indies, since 2000||7||5||1||1/ 0|
The batting and bowling averages since 2000 indicate how far ahead Australia have been in their head-to-head contests. They've averaged 43.58 runs per wicket with the bat in Tests against West Indies, and conceded less than 27 runs per wicket. In the West Indies, their bowling average has gone up to more than 31, but the batting average has also climbed to 46.28. Ricky Ponting has led the charge of the Australian batsmen during this period, scoring six hundreds in 17 Tests and averaging almost 65. He has done even better in the West Indies, averaging 84.60, with four centuries in six Tests.
Among the West Indian batsmen, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been the one batsman among the current lot who has shone consistently against Australia, and there will be plenty of responsibility on him this time around as well. In 12 Tests against Australia since 2000, Chanderpaul averages 47.95; in six home Tests against them during this period, his record matches that of Ponting's: four centuries in six Tests, and an average of 77.67. Moreover, he also has a superb record in Barbados, the venue for the first Test: in 15 matches there, he averages 63.55, including three centuries. Meanwhile, Ponting hasn't done badly here either, with two centuries in three Tests, and an average touching 60.
West Indies' fast bowling is probably their strongest suit, with Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach all in the mix. Roach created a pretty good impression in Australia in 2009, but in terms of stats, Edwards has the best numbers against Australia, especially in home conditions. In three Tests against them at home, he has taken 15 wickets at 25.13. That included a match haul of eight wickets in Kingston in the first Test in 2008 - the bowlers gave West Indies a fair chance of winning that Test, but faced with a fourth-innings target of 287, West Indies could only muster 191.
|Overall - bat ave, 100s/ 50s||Wkts, Bowl ave||In WI - bat ave, 100s/ 50s||Wkts, Bowl ave|
|Australia||43.58, 24/ 48||344, 26.56||46.28, 15/ 15||129, 31.55|
|West Indies||25.16, 17/ 40||221, 47.77||29.62, 10/ 18||92, 49.73|
There are many stats which indicate West Indies' decline over the last few years, but perhaps the most remarkable one is their win-loss record in Barbados. There used to be a time when the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown was a virtual fortress for West Indies: between 1976 and May 2002, they won 17 out of 23 Tests, and lost only two. Since June 2002, though, that record has turned on its head: in their last nine Tests here, West Indies have lost six and won just one. During this period, Australia have won both their Tests here, after losing four of their previous five, including that unforgettable Brian Lara starrer in 1999. (Click here for Australia's Test results in Barbados.)
When West Indies had that dominant run in Barbados, the pitch was quick and bouncy, and that suited West Indies' battery of fast bowlers perfectly. Perhaps the pitch isn't quite as spicy, but it's still better suited for fast bowling than for spin: in the last six Tests here, since the beginning of 2005, fast bowlers average 33.13, having taken 129 wickets. Spinners have only taken 53, at an average of 42.47. Australia's batsmen have shown some vulnerability against slow bowling on the tour so far, but going by recent history at this ground, their batsmen should be fairly comfortable on this surface. With Australia relying mostly on quick bowling, they'll be pretty pleased too if the surface and the conditions favour their bowlers.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter