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Opinion

Windies' dynasty decline a cautionary tale for Australian selectors with major transition period looming

30th January, 2024
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30th January, 2024
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With the West Indies winning their first Test in Australia since 1997, it’s a reminder to the crestfallen local side that ruling the cricket world does not last forever. 

Not that the Aussies are in any danger of plummeting into a prolonged slump like the Windies have endured since their golden generations faded into retirement.

That’s generations, plural, because over the course of two decades after winning the first men’s ODI World Cup in 1975, the Caribbean Calypso kings were able to regenerate their all-conquering side on a regular basis. 

But once the all-time greats like Sir Vivian Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Jeff Dujon retired in the early 1990s, the end of their incredible era was not only very swift but has been followed by an extended period in the doldrums, apart from fleeting patches of T20 glory. 

Australia’s Test team has a bunch of long-serving legends who have retired in the case of David Warner or will be calling time in the next few years in Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. 

Usman Khawaja with Steve Smith. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Regeneration will be difficult given 24-year-old Cameron Green and Marnus Labuschagne (for a few more months) are the only players in the Test line-up under 30. 

Test cricketers, even immensely talented ones like Green, take a few years to get even close to their fully formed selves. 

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Khawaja needed a few goes at international level before finally dominating in his late-career renaissance, Smith took time before he found his niche, Lyon was dropped 18 months after his debut, while Starc needed a dozen Tests before hitting his stride. 

Hazlewood is one of the rare elite players who started strongly and the only troughs in his career have been due to injuries.

If this current crop of Aussie veterans retire within close proximity of each other, Pat Cummins, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Green will be tasked with the job of holding the team together. 

All of a sudden they’ll look around the dressing room and see rookies or players on their final chance who have been called in to replace not only Smith, Starc, Lyon, Khawaja and Hazlewood but Mitchell Marsh and Alex Carey, who are already a couple of years the wrong side of 30. 

On the bowling front, the ship has all but sailed for Scott Boland (34) and Michael Neser (33), leaving injury-plagued 27-year-old speedster Jhye Richardson as the only Aussie fast bowler under 30 with Test experience via his three matches from 2019-22. 

Australia’s only other active players who are under 30 and have a baggy green cap are Will Pucovski (one Test, 25), Matt Renshaw (14 Tests, 27), Todd Murphy (six Tests, 23) and Matt Kuhnemann (three Tests, 27).

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The 1984 Windies are generally regarded as the greatest version of their golden era and one of the best teams for any nation in history. They pulled off their famous 5-0 “blackwash” in England while also thumping Australia by a collective 6-1 over two series home and away. 

They then continued to rule the Test cricketing globe for just over a decade before Mark Taylor’s upstart Aussie side ended their 15-year unbeaten series streak. 

Beaten skipper Richie Richardson infamously gave the Aussies little credit after his Windies lost at home in 1995 to a side missing injured new-ball bowlers Craig McDermott and Damien Fleming that was forced to rely on an up-and-coming seamer named Glenn McGrath to spearhead a young attack which also included Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel and Brendon Julian.

Glenn McGrath bowls Courtney Walsh at Barbados in 1995. (Photo: ALLSPORT/Getty Images)

Glenn McGrath bowls Courtney Walsh at Barbados in 1995. (Photo: ALLSPORT/Getty Images)

“I can’t believe we lost to Australia. In my opinion, this is the weakest Australian side I’ve played against,” he said.

It was a shock when the Windies were finally reduced to mortals by Taylor’s team with Steve Waugh playing the innings of a lifetime with his series-defining 200.

But the pipeline of talent inevitably runs dry, particularly when you have a nucleus which stays together for a long time – the double edged sword of having a glut of players great players all born around the same time.

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One of the crucial factors in their 20 years on top was that when the stars of the first decade retired their spots were taken by similarly high quality replacements. 

Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner hung up their boots through the mid 1980s with Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop giving opposing batters no respite. 

Clive Lloyd and Larry Gomes made way in the batting line-up with Richie Richardson, Gus Logie and Carl Hooper ensuring the runs kept flowing. 

But eventually the string of retirements became too much for the Caribbean production line to handle. 

West Indies wicket-keeper Jeff Dujon (left) waves a stump at the crowd, whilst Viv Richards puts his arm around team mate Malcom Marshall as they celebrate with the rest of a victorious team (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

The West Indies during their 1980s glory days. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

They were blessed to be able to virtually replace Viv with an heir apparent in Brian Lara but when you are also trying to find another Greenidge, Dujon, Marshall and Haynes, it becomes too much. 

Untested players were thrown to the wolves in the form of the rising Australian side and even though the Windies of the late 90s contained Lara, Ambrose, Walsh and very good complementary players like Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the tide had well and truly turned. 

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After the 2-1 series loss on home soil, the passing of the torch was confirmed when they came to Australia in 1996-97 and Taylor led his side to a 3-2 triumph with the Windies saving face in the final match at Perth, which up until Sunday was their most recent win Down Under.

The problem the Windies faced when their legends were getting to the end of their career is the dilemma that confronts the Australian selectors of today. 

There was nobody better to select than Richards, Marshall, Greenidge and Haynes, who all played well into their 30s. 

Apart from perhaps Murphy, keeper Josh Inglis and emerging quick Lance Morris, there are few young players on the horizon putting the squeeze on the established Aussie stars. 

Viv bowed out after the 1991 tour of England with the final Test of that tour also the last that Marshall struck fear into the hearts of batters and Dujon performed his acrobatic feats behind the stumps.

Like the three-pronged exit of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh for Australia in early 1984, it was the beginning of the end for the Calypso kings.

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The current Australian selectors have demonstrated with Warner’s dwindling final couple of years of modest Test returns that (depending on your perspective), they are reluctant to tap legends on the shoulder or they will persist with all-time greats because they think they will eventually repay the faith by regaining form. 

Players like Carey and Marsh who don’t quite fall into that category can’t afford to go through a lengthy form slump as they will be more likely to be cast aside to bring in an injection of youth. 

With back-to-back marquee home summers ahead against India and England, the Australian selectors probably can’t afford to overhaul the team too much over the next two years but the risk will be that by looking after the present, they could be sacrificing the future.

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