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Soaring in the 1980s, slumping in the 2000s

Malcolm Marshall took 4 for 52 in Pakistan's second innings Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

Only two teams have so far played 500-plus Tests in history - England (952), and Australia (767). When West Indies take the field against Bangladesh in Gros Islet on Saturday, they'll become the third team to enter the 500-Test club. For a team that hasn't had much to celebrate over the past decade, this is a good time to look at their roller-coaster ride in Test cricket, and look back at a period when they were the undisputed champions of the game.

West Indies' Test journey started on June 23, 1928, when they took on England at Lord's. They lost that Test by an innings and 58 runs, and lost the next two by similar margins as well, but when England toured the West Indies in 1930, they notched up their first win, in Georgetown, by 289 runs, in only their sixth Test. George Headley scored a century in each innings, while Learie Constantine, the right-arm fast bowler, had a match haul of 9 for 122, his best in Tests.

From there, West Indies picked up the skills of Test cricket pretty quickly. Their first win abroad came in their eighth overseas Test, in Sydney in 1931, when they beat an Australian side that included Don Bradman, Bill Ponsford and Stan McCabe in the fifth Test of the series by 30 runs (though Australia had won the first four Tests and hence won the series 4-1). Chasing a target of 251, Australia were bowled out for 220, with Bradman being bowled by Herman Griffith for zero; it was his first Test duck, and the only one he made against a team other than England in his entire Test career.

After just 50 Tests, West Indies had an impressive win-loss record of 15-18 (Australia were 18-26, Pakistan 10-14, India 5-18 and South Africa 9-32). When they beat England at Old Trafford in 1963 by ten wickets, riding on Lance Gibbs' 11 for 157 and Conrad Hunte's 182, it was their 32nd Test win in their 95 Tests, and it brought their win-loss ratio up to 1.00 for the first time (which means the number of Tests won equalled the number lost). It dropped to below one briefly a couple of times in the 1970s, but from July 22, 1976, when they beat England by 55 runs at Headingley in their 172nd Test, to June 9, 2010, their win-loss ratio remained at 1.00 or more. In June 2010, when South Africa beat them by 163 runs in Port-of-Spain, it was their 153rd loss, as opposed to 152 wins, in 463 matches, making it the first time in almost 34 years that their win-loss ratio had slipped to below 1.00. (Click here for West Indies' cumulative record in Tests.)

Through their first 200 Tests, their win-loss remained marginally greater than one, but the period between 201 and 300 Tests was when West Indies truly dominated the world stage. In 100 Tests, they had a win-loss record of 53-13. (Interchange the positions of the losses and wins, and you get, almost exactly, the win-loss record in their last 99 Tests.) That period between their 201 and 300 Tests, though, covered their best period almost exactly. It began in November 1980, when West Indies toured Pakistan for a four-Test series and won 1-0; it ended in a drawn one-off Test in Sri Lanka in 1993. In 23 series during this period (excluding one-off Tests), West Indies won 16 and drew seven. Their batting line-up during this period was formidable, but what made the difference was the bowling attack. They averaged 26.01 runs per wicket during this period, which is significantly lower than the other periods. Their batsmen scored fewer hundreds during this period, but that's partly because West Indies often didn't bat twice in a Test match.

West Indies continued their undefeated run for three more series after their 300th Test, winning at home against England in 1994 and in New Zealand in 1995, and drawing in India in 1994-95, but then they lost to Australia in 1995, and that set off the decline. In the period between February 1994 and November 2003, their win-loss ratio dropped to 0.68 (from 4.07 in the previous 100-Test period), with the batting numbers dropping off as well: they scored only 67 hundreds, at an average of one century every 27 innings. Since November 2003, the stats have been abysmal.

West Indies' best 100 Tests were, by far, the ones between 201 and 300, which also coincided almost exactly with their best period in Tests. The entire period when they didn't lose a Test series extended between their 196th and their 310th Test (which was the last Test before the start of the series against Australia, which they lost). In that period between their 196th and 310th Test, they achieved a win-loss ratio of 3.93, which is far better than the other sides. They are the sort of numbers that drew comparisons with the great Australian teams of the 1930s and 1940s, and late 1990s and 2000s: between 1930 and November 1951, Australia had a 44-11 record in 67 Tests, and between October 1999 and September 2008, they had a 76-11 win-loss record in exactly 100 Tests.

During their period of pomp, West Indies had four batsmen who scored 5000-plus runs at 40-plus averages - Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Richie Richardson, while Clive Lloyd, Jeff Dujon and Larry Gomes also made significant contributions in key series. There were other teams that averaged slightly more with the bat, but West Indies were unmatched as a bowling side, with an average of 26.56 runs per wicket. Malcolm Marshall was the biggest force, taking 373 wickets at 20.40, while Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner and Michael Holding all took 150-plus wickets at averages of less than 25.

The one factor that contributed to West Indies' Test success more than any other was their fast bowling, and the table below shows just effective their pace attack was, and the amount of damage it inflicted. In the 100 Tests between their 201st and 300th, Marshall, Walsh, Garner, Ambrose and Holding were the lead acts: all of them took 150-plus wickets, and all except Walsh averaged less than 23 during that period. Overall, West Indies' fast bowlers averaged 23.21 runs per wicket during that period, and took 91% of the total wickets their bowlers took during this period.

Fast bowling wasn't always such a dominant aspect of West Indian attacks though: in their first 100 Tests, West Indies' fast bowlers took only 46% of total bowler wickets, and in the next 100, it went up to 62%. Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Lance Gibbs were the significant names in the bowling attack then. In their last 100 Tests, West Indies seem to be going back to depending more on spin, with the fast bowlers' percentage dropping to less than 70.

* % of wickets taken by bowlers (excludes run-outs)
Among batsmen who have scored 6000-plus runs for West Indies in Tests, the stats for Brian Lara stand out, because of the percentage of runs he scored in what was otherwise a fairly inconsistent batting line-up. Lara scored 20% of the total bat runs scored by West Indies in the Tests he played, while the percentages for all the other batsmen didn't top 16.5. Shivnarine Chanderpaul has a percentage of 16.01, which would probably be more if he were to bat higher up the order. During the days of their pomp, though, the workload was shared around much more equitably, which meant even Richards didn't have such a huge burden to carry. Garry Sobers had an incredibly high batting average, but in terms of percentage of team runs, even his contribution was significantly lower than Lara's, which indicates the quality of the rest of the batting during those two periods.

* % of runs scored off the bat (excludes extras)
In the period in which they have played their last 99 Tests, West Indies have clearly been the worst team of all except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Their bowling average has ballooned to almost 40 runs per wicket, which would have been unthinkable during the era of Marshall and Co. However, given that their 500th Test is against a team that has been even worse - and given that they are playing at home - West Indies will have high expectations of winning their 500th Test and reducing the gap between their wins and losses to five.

More Numbers

299 The number of Test players for West Indies so far. This includes 40 players who played exactly one Test. Australia had given out 348 caps when they had played 499 Tests, compared to England's 460 at a similar stage.

122 The first Test century by a West Indian - Clifford Roach scored those runs against England in Barbados in 1930. Roach was also the first to score a double-hundred - 209 - later in the same series in Guyana. However, of the first 14 hundreds scored by West Indian batsman, ten were by George Headley, who was also the first West Indian to score a century in each innings of a Test - 114 and 112, in the same Test in which Roach scored the double. It led to West Indies' first Test win.

57.78 Garry Sobers' batting average in 93 Tests. Among those with at least 8000 Test runs, only Kumar Sangakkara (58.76) has a better average.

4 The number of West Indian spinners who have taken 100 or more Test wickets. Lance Gibbs is way ahead with 309 wickets ay 29.09, followed by Sonny Ramadhin (158 at 28.98), Alf Valentine (139 at 30.32) and Carl Hooper (114 at 49.42). The next-highest after Hooper is Chris Gayle, with 73 wickets at 42.73.

74 The number of Tests in which Clive Lloyd led West Indies. Only four players - Graeme Smith, Allan Border, Stephen Fleming and Ricky Ponting - have led in more Tests. Lloyd had a 36-12 win-loss record, making him one of only four captains to lead in 50 or more Tests and achieve a win-loss ratio of 3.00 or more - Richards, Steve Waugh and Ponting are the others.

14 The number of Man-of-the-Match awards for Curtly Ambrose, the most for a West Indian in Tests. Lara has 12, while Chanderpaul, Marshall and Richards have ten each.