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Comparing eras of dominance: West Indies and Australia

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23rd July, 2021
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To complete the series of the next best of the 1980s and ’90s, I shall now do a comparison of the dominance of the West Indies and Australian teams from those respective decades.

The only thing is, it is not possible to restrict it to precisely those decades as the West Indies dominance began in 1979 immediately after World Series Cricket and pretty much ended with the successful retention of the Frank Worrell Trophy in their home series of early-mid 1991.

However, strictly speaking, they did not lose a Test series for another four years and that will be expanded upon shortly.

Likewise, the Australian dominance pretty much began when Mark Taylor took over from Allan Border as captain, even though Australia actually lost their first series under his outstanding leadership, albeit by an extremely narrow margin of a mere solitary wicket despite having the better of the majority of that late 1994 series in Pakistan.

Mark Taylor

(Credit: Mike Hewitt /Allsport/Getty Images)

The purpose of this comparison is actually not to declare a clear winner – the only way to do that would be to pit the two sides against each other, but that would prove nothing considering Clive Lloyd is now 77, Steve Waugh 56, Shane Warne no doubt unfit and overweight as well as rather senile and incoherent in his rantings about Steve Waugh, with Malcolm Marshall, sadly, no longer alive.

The purpose is mainly to show similarities and differences in the extent of their respective dominance, including the fact that they dominated in two different eras that also were not completely identical.

The only thing I am convinced about is that we are unlikely to ever see again the same level of dominance exerted by either team and I won’t go into the reasons for this conviction.

I will only say that since Australia’s reign came to an end, the most likely team to have had the opportunity to do so were South Africa for about a decade from 2008 onwards, but they failed to do so, and I am not denigrating them for this – like I say, there are certain factors at play to do with the contemporary game, which are not part of this discussion.

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Setting the parameters
The first two comparisons made will be overall numbers as well as percentages of wins, losses and draws for both series as well as overall Tests. For the latter, all Tests will be included, while for the former a minuscule minority of certain matches will be left out of the comparisons and there are reasons for this.

West Indies legend Clive Lloyd.

(Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

A one-off Test does not constitute a series, but it does obviously constitute a Test match. Therefore, the four that occurred for both teams in question will be omitted from the series comparisons, but obviously included in the overall Tests comparison.

The two one-off Tests for the West Indies were against South Africa at home in early 1992, which the Windies won, and in Sri Lanka in 1993, which was drawn. The two for Australia were in India in late 1996, which Australia lost, and in Zimbabwe in late 1999, which they won.

There was also one inconclusive two-Test series win for both teams, which like the one-off Tests, will naturally be included in the overall Test stats, but not series stats. The reason for this is that a proper Test series should allow for a possible level series of 1-1, or even 2-2, going into the final match of the series. A two-Test series does not allow this, but a series of three or more Tests does.

Therefore, the 1-0 win to the West Indies in New Zealand in early 1995 as well as the 1-0 win to Australia at home against Sri Lanka in mid-2004 will not be included in the series results.

In both cases, there was not a third Test scheduled to allow either the series leader to that point to maintain their lead through a drawn deciding Test, seal the series comprehensively with another convincing win, or to allow the team trailing to square the rubber by rallying in such a third and final Test.

Two-Test series where a team won both will be included because in such cases a third Test scheduled would not have altered the series result.

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Australia played five such series during their period of dominance, against Bangladesh at home in mid-2003, against Zimbabwe leading into the 2003-04 home summer, against New Zealand at home in 2004-05, in Bangladesh in early 2006 and then at home against Sri Lanka in 2007-08. The West Indies played no such series.

Justin Langer and Matt Hayden

(Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Also omitted from the series analysis, but included in the overall Tests analysis, will be Australia in Sri Lanka in late 1999 and the home series against New Zealand in 2001-02.

The reason is that both series effectively became one-off Tests due to rain wiping out any chance of a result in Tests 2 and 3 in the first of those two aforementioned series, and in Tests 1 and 2 of the second so mentioned series.

All in all, this will not prejudice the series comparisons as it will reduce Australia’s series played by five, from 45 to 40 or a mere 12.5 per cent, while the number of Tests omitted will be ten out of 149 or 6.7 per cent. For the West Indies, it will mean reducing the number of series from 31 to 28, which is 9.7 per cent, while cutting out a total of four Tests out of 121, which is a reduction of 3.3 per cent.

The West Indies were not similarly affected in any series they played in their period under discussion. Rain certainly played havoc in England 1980, but only to the extent that it reduced their series victory margin to 1-0 in a five-Test series. No allowances are made for either side for rain-ruined games in the overall Tests numbers.

Finally, I am omitting from both series and overall Test comparisons the World XI game in Sydney in late 2005, which Australia won. The reason for this is that no other World XI game has ever been given Test status and I believe this to be unfair and inconsistent.

Tests won, lost and drawn
Starting from their 1979-80 tour of Australia, their first ever Test series win here, until their penultimate series before their comprehensive thrashing at home in 1995, the West Indies played 121 Tests, winning 61, losing 16, and drawing 44.

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That is a win percentage of 50.4, a loss percentage of 13.2 and a drawn percentage of 36.4. Bear in mind, the percentage of Tests drawn in Australia during the 1980s was 50 per cent, with this figure unlikely to have been significantly lower in either England or New Zealand, and in India and Pakistan it was probably closer to 80 per cent.

Joel Garner runs with a wicket stump in each hand.

(Mark Leech/Getty Images)

Starting from their home Ashes summer in 1994-95 until the end of the West Indies tour of early-mid 2008, Australia played 149 Tests, winning 101, losing 25 and drawing 23. This is a win percentage of 67.8, a losing percentage of 16.7 and a drawn percentage of 15.5.

Bear in mind, pretty much coinciding with Mark Taylor taking over, the number of draws both home and away for Australia dropped markedly, and this was absorbed in both their wins and losses.

For example, whereas 50 per cent of Tests in Australia being drawn in the 1980s, this dropped to 22 per cent in the ’90s and then dropped further to 16 per cent in the first decade of the new century and millennium.

An important figure to calculate for both teams is the percentage of losses in non-dead rubbers against games played excluding the actual dead rubber losses.

The reason for this is that there is no crime in winning a dead rubber when you have already won the series – it can be a matter of say winning 4-0, 5-0 or even 3-1 in a five-Test series, or making a clean 3-0 sweep rather than dropping the final game of a three-Test series.

Losses that weren’t dead rubbers as a percentage of all games bar dead rubbers lost were 12.1 for Australia and 10.3 for the West Indies.

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Series won, lost and drawn
During their respective periods of dominance, using the parameters to allow for a tiny minority of Tests that don’t qualify as proper series, Australia played 40 series, won 35, lost three and drew two. This is a series winning percentage of 87.5, a series losing percentage of 7.5 and a drawn series percentage of five.

Shane Warne jumps in celebration

(Photo by Gareth Copley – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

The West Indies by comparison played 28 series, won 19, lost one and drew eight. This is a series winning percentage of 67.9, a series losing percentage of only 3.6 and a drawn series percentage of 28.5.

Remembering the higher incidence of drawn Tests during the West Indies era, the three-Test 1-1 drawn series in Australia in 1981-82, for example, would quite likely have had a 2-1 result either way in the Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting eras.

Also note that their only loss during this period was a three-Test series where only one of the Tests had a result. Again, even allowing for fickle weather in New Zealand, the chances are that in the Australian era of dominance there may well have been two of the three Tests achieve a result, on average.

Where did they win
They both won at least one Test series in every other Test nation except for the West Indies in Sri Lanka. However, this is not something that can count against the West Indies for two reasons.

1. They only played one solitary Test there and 2. Sri Lanka were minnows for pretty much all of the Windies’ era of dominance and if ever there was a cricketing certainty it is that the West Indies would have won a proper three-Test series in Sri Lanka had they played such a series there between 1979 and 1991.

Technically, the only series the West Indies won in New Zealand was an inconclusive one under the parameters set earlier. However, it shall count in this instance because that terminology was only for the purpose of statistical analysis of series won, lost and drawn, not for determining whether a team actually won in that particular country.

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West Indies' Viv Richards cuts the ball away during his record-breaking innings of 189 not out.

(S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

Winning streaks
From early 1984 until later the same year, the West Indies won 11 successive Tests against two countries, England and Australia.

From late 1999 until early 2001, Australia won 16 straight Tests against Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, New Zealand, West Indies and India. From December 2005 until January 2008, they won 16 straight against South Africa, Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and India.

Discounting the one-off Test in India late 1996, Australia won nine successive Test series from late 1994 until early 1998 against England, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, England, New Zealand and South Africa. That was under Mark Taylor.

Under Steve Waugh they won seven series in a row from December 2001 until but not including his very last Test series in 2003-04, against South Africa, South Africa, Pakistan, England, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Only copious amounts of rain in the first two Tests of a home series against New Zealand in 2001-02 prevented this being nine a row as they also won the preceding series in England in 2001.

Under Ponting, Australia won eight Test series in a row from late 2005 until early-mid 2008 against West Indies, South Africa, South Africa, Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka, India and West Indies.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

(James Knowler/Getty Images)

Under first Clive Lloyd, and then Viv Richards, the West Indies won seven series in a row from early-mid 1983 until late 1986 against India, India, Australia, England, Australia, New Zealand and England. Their next best series winning streak was four starting in mid-1988 and finishing in early-mid 1990 against England, Australia, India and England.

Non-winning droughts in series
While not losing a series, the West Indies had to settle for four successive drawn series from late 1986 until early-mid 1988 against Pakistan, New Zealand, India and Pakistan.

Australia’s longest streak not winning a series was two series – a drawn series in the West Indies in early-mid 1999 and then an officially lost series in Sri Lanka late 1999, the one that became a virtual one-off Test on account of the elements killing any remote chance of a result in Tests 2 and 3 of that particular series.

Their only other drought was three series in which they only won one when they lost in India early 2001, then won in England 2001 and then rain once again turned the 2001-02 home series against New Zealand into a virtual one-off Test in Perth, which was drawn.

Coming from behind
The last thing to compare between these two amazing sides is how they performed when they found themselves trailing in a series. The West Indies lost only one series between 1979 and early 1995 and the margin was 0-1, losing the first Test, so they did not recover to either win or draw on that occasion. They recovered from a deficit to win a series on only one occasion, 1992-93 in Australia.

There were six occasions where the West Indies trailed in a series and recovered to draw level by series end, though too late to win the series.

There were two further occasions where the West Indies led by one Test but then lost the final Test and had to settle for a draw.

The 1999 series in Sri Lanka discounted for reasons already stated, Australia lost three series between late 1994 and early-mid 2008, but in one of those, in India 2001, they lost the final Test with the series level at 1-1.

On two occasions, they trailed in a series and did not recover to either win or draw the rubber and on one of those occasions they had originally led in the series.

On one occasion they led, lost the lead, and then recovered to win the series, on another they led, lost the lead, then trailed and then recovered to square the series. On only one occasion did they trail in a series and recover to win, and on a further occasion they trailed and recovered to draw the series.

Adam Gilchrist hits Monty Panesar for six

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The overall stats for Australia in the 14-year period comprising 45 virtual series under discussion is: fell behind in seven series, recovered to win once, recovered to draw twice and didn’t recover twice plus the 1999 series in Sri Lanka – for this particular analysis this previously excluded series will now be included because although Australia didn’t have a genuine chance to recover on account of the elements, they technically still fell behind in the series before anyone knew how the series would pan out.

Also included in terms of falling behind is the one-off Test in India in late 1996 – although a one-off Test, had it been the first Test of a legitimate three-Test series, they would still have technically fallen behind. Australia fell behind in 15.6 per cent of series using these upsized parameters for what constitutes a series.

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The overall stats for the West Indies in their 15-and-a-half-year period comprising 31 virtual series under discussion is: fell behind in eight series, recovered to win once, recovered to draw six times and didn’t recover at all on one occasion.

As with Australia, for this analysis, both previously excluded one-off Tests are now included (neither which the West Indies lost) as is the two-Test inconclusive series win in early 1995, in which the West Indies did not lose a Test in any case. The West Indies fell behind in 25.8 per cent of series.

The only definitive conclusion I will draw from any of the entire analysis is that the West Indies were clearly better in recovering when trailing in a series, while Australia were clearly better in not falling behind in the first place.

I hope to do, at some stage time permitting, a statistical study of individual innings performances for both teams from their respective epochs of glory in terms of number of scores over 500/600, those their bowlers conceded, number of times they skittled their opposition for under 100/150/200, number of times they similarly crumbled in comparison as well as number of centuries and doubles scored as well as those conceded by their own respective bowling attacks.

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