The West Indies, Once Powerhouses, Are on a Troubled Downward Spiral for the Future of Test Cricket

“We lost the fear factor. … The teams knew they couldn’t beat us.” You could feel the lament in the voice of former captain Darren Sammy, who told me about the West Indies spiral during the T20 World Cup in October.

But Sammy, who led the West Indies to their 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 hope that the West Indies could be competitive after their series wins against England and Bangladesh earlier in the year.

These victories, however, were home to slower surfaces where the West Indies had been quite adequate to play but had little resistance in the burial grounds in Australia, where they hadn’t won a Test match since February 1997.

Australia feasted on indifferent bowling – to be fair, the West Indies were injured, but it probably wouldn’t matter much. The West Indies were all over and behind after being led to 77 points in their second innings, resulting in a dismal 419-round hit in the second Test.

Worryingly, there wasn’t much of a struggle for a team trying to prove their competitiveness away. And to show that they are worthy of playing more regularly against Australia, which has traditionally had little time for smaller nations.

In a whirlwind of the World Test Championship cycle, the West Indies will be returning to Australia for another Test series next summer. Rest assured the state troops wouldn’t want to host the West Indies who failed to win a Test in Australia’s 16 tries – 14 of which ended in defeat.

Next summer could be a tough sell with Pakistan, whose other team will take the Down Under journey, and their record in Australia is somewhat worse than the West Indies with 14 consecutive losses dating back more than two decades.

However, unlike the West Indies, which have a few decent players on the roster but unfortunately don’t have major names, there are at least some draw cards.

The lack of pizzaz—a complete reversal of their mid-70s to mid-90s glory years—was underlined by very little marketing given to a series that felt like a glorified warm-up to the blockbuster trio. The series of matches between Australia and South Africa will kick off in Brisbane on 17 December.

The West Indies have not been very good at Test cricket for 25 years. The truth is, given the irresistible financial appeal of the T20 franchise leagues, they will likely never reach these heights again.

The West Indies certainly have key players in T20 cricket, though most of them have either retired from international cricket or have passed their freshman year. The West Indies are not particularly good in any format at the moment.

While there is hope for a recovery in shorter formats, continued Test cricket success remains uncertain and it is no exaggeration to suggest that their future in the format is bleak.

Even if they are not alone. For some time now, power brokers at the International Cricket Council have pondered the long-term sustainability of a valuable but highly archaic format among purists.

The prevailing view is that Test cricket will ultimately only be played between a handful of countries and the rest of the calendar will be punctuated by the T20 franchise leagues.

With the T20 format, the sport’s growth engine that came to fruition in the last T20 World Cup, Test cricket will likely eventually be just for the old guard – especially Australia and England, where the format is still hugely popular.

India is also committed, but it remains to be seen whether the extended expected duration of the money-turning Indian Premier League will erode that.

But developing cricket nations aren’t investing in the expensive Test format with the current number of 12 countries playing Test – it will likely grow – perhaps never will.

Smaller Test-playing countries like the West Indies can also pull the pin on the format because what’s really the point of holding on to the delusion of recapturing their golden age that stretched back two decades.

This is pretty embarrassing for Test traditionalists, but it’s a snapshot of what cricket might look like in the coming decades.

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