“We have lost the fear factor. … Teams knew they couldn’t beat us.” You could feel the lamentation in the voice of former captain Darren Sammy as he described to me the West Indies spiral at the T20 World Cup in October.
But Sammy, who led the West Indies to T20 World Cup titles in 2012 and 2016, could easily have talked about the team’s plight in Test cricket after a disastrous 2-0 run against Australia.
Ahead of their first Test series against Australia since 2015-16, there was some hope that the West Indies could be competitive after series wins against England and Bangladesh earlier in the year.
But those triumphs were at home on slower surfaces, conditions in which the West Indies play reasonably well, but in their graveyard in Australia – where they haven’t won a Test match since February 1997 – they offered little resistance.
Australia enjoyed listless bowling – even if the West Indies had been injured, to be fair, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered much. The West Indies were completely overmatched and outplayed, culminating in a dismal thrashing of 419 runs in the second Test after being beaten for 77 in their second innings.
Worryingly, there wasn’t much of a fight for a team trying to prove their competitiveness away from home. And to show that they are worth playing more often against Australia, which traditionally has little time for smaller countries.
In a quirk of the World Test Championship cycle, the West Indies will return to Australia next summer for another Test series. Rest assured that the state associations don’t want to host the West Indies, who have not won a test in their 16 attempts in Australia – 14 of them were losses.
Next summer could be a tough sell with Pakistan the other team heading Down Under and their record in Australia is somehow even worse than the West Indies with 14 consecutive losses stretching back over two decades .
But they have at least some draw cards unlike West Indies who unfortunately don’t have big names even though there are several decent players in the lineup.
Their lack of zest — a complete reversal of their mid-’70s to mid-’90s glory days — was underlined by very little marketing for a series that felt like a glorified warm-up to the blockbuster three- match series between Australia and South Africa starting December 17 in Brisbane.
The West Indies have not been particularly good at Test cricket for 25 years. The truth is that they will probably never reach those heights again given the irresistible financial appeal of T20 franchise leagues.
The West Indies most certainly have great players in T20 cricket, although most of them are either retired from international cricket or past their prime. The West Indies are not particularly good in any format right now.
While there is hope for a recovery in the shorter formats, Test Cricket’s continued success remains elusive and it is no exaggeration to suggest that their future is bleak in the format.
Although they are not alone. For some time now, power brokers in the International Cricket Council have pondered the long-term sustainability of a format cherished by purists but rather archaic.
The prevailing view is that Test cricket will eventually only be played between a handful of countries, leaving the marquee series intact, with the rest of the calendar littered with T20 franchise competitions.
With the T20 format the sport’s growth engine, paying off at the recent T20 World Cup, Test cricket will eventually be only for the old guard – particularly Australia and England, countries where the format is still hugely popular.
India is also committed, although one wonders if the expected extension of the money-guzzling Indian Premier League will erode this.
But emerging cricketing nations are not investing in the expensive Test format, as the current number of 12 Test-playing nations is unlikely to expand – perhaps ever.
Smaller test-playing nations like the West Indies could also pull the pin on the format, as what will really be the point of sticking to the delusion of recaptured their heyday stretched as far back as two decades ago.
It’s all rather unfortunate for Test traditionalists, but it’s a snapshot of what cricket could look like in the decades to come.