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5 reasons for the collapse of the West Indies T20 empire

The West Indies T20 dynasty came to an end in Abu Dhabi last year but their Round One exit in the 2022 World Cup represents a new nadir. CricViz’s head of Performance Analysis Freddie Wilde examines five reasons for the fall of their empire. 

1) The end of the Golden Generation

It’s an obvious point but across the last few years the West Indies have lost some of the greatest players ever to play the game and that naturally was always going to bring with it a dip in results. In the last few years Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Samuel Badree have all retired while politics has meant Sunil Narine and Andre Russell (and Shimron Hetmyer) have been absent. Although the West Indies could do nothing about the passing of time they could have done more to phase out this golden generation who were arguably persisted with for too long and undermined transition planning. 

2) Larger boundaries and a failure to adapt

The West Indies T20 success was built on an outlier method of boundary-hitting and in particular six-hitting. The World Cups in 2012, 2014 and 2016, played in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India with relatively small boundaries suited this style of play where even mishits could carry for six.

However, back-to-back tournaments in the UAE and Australia where boundary-sizes are significantly bigger have provided this method with significant challenges: shots that would go 20 rows back in Asia (and in the Caribbean) have been caught off the rope. 

As with the departing legends, there’s nothing West Indies could have done about playing on these grounds but they certainly could have done more to adapt their approach to better suit conditions. It wasn’t as if they weren’t warned. Less than six months after their 2016 triumph the West Indies were humbled against Pakistan on the large UAE grounds but across the next five years their method showed very little signs of adapting. In fact, the West Indies attacked more in the 2022 World Cup than any previous edition.

The problems posed by larger boundaries are most clearly apparent in the West Indies numbers against spin which were awful in both the 2021 and 2022 tournaments. With less pace on the ball the West Indies simply didn’t have the power to clear the ropes. 

3) Evolution of the game

Between 2012 and 2016 the West Indies revolutionized the game but since then the game has caught up with them and now left them behind. Other teams such as England have recognised the benefits of the boundary-hitting approach but have married it with far greater strike rotation and 360 degree scoring, opening up areas of the field and providing fresh challenges to bowlers. The rise of data analysis has made the West Indies power-hitters easier to plan for and the rise of middle overs enforcers—bowlers who bowl fast & short through the middle—has countered their predominant technique of front foot, full length power-hitting. This is clearly illustrated in the significant decline in the percentage of attempted yorkers bowled to the West Indies in World Cups.

4) Bowling neglect

It is often overlooked that the 2012-2016 West Indies teams had elite and varied bowling attacks to complement their powerful batting orders. Narine, Badree, Bravo, Krishmar Santokie and Ravi Rampaul meant the West Indies were not simply a team who out-hit their opponents. The West Indies attack for this 2022 World Cup with Alzarri Joseph, Jason Holder, an in-form Obed McCoy and Akeal Hosein represented an upgrade on the 2021 tournament but the fact that Odean Smith was bowling in the Powerplay of their defeat against Ireland embodied the fact that the West Indies had neglected their bowling – a perilous decision in T20. 

5) No CPL feeder league

After the establishment of The Hundred and the SA20, the CPL is now one of only two major T20 competitions (the BBL is the other) that does not have a ‘feeder’ league beneath it. India’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Pakistan’s National T20 Cup, England’s T20 Blast, South Africa’s T20 Challenge and Sri Lanka’s interprovincial tournament all represent larger, more local-based tournaments that widen the net for talent identification and enable the progression of the next generation. The CPL with only six teams, basic scouting infrastructure and no feeder tournament beneath it has somewhat stagnated in recent years stunting the emergence of the Caribbean’s T20 stars of tomorrow.  

This was something that Pollard spoke about after the 2021 tournament. “We need to have [a] tournament other than CPL where we can unearth new talents,” he said. “When we had the Caribbean T20 [which ran from 2010-13, without overseas players], that was an opportunity to bring you talent from different parts of the Caribbean to be able to have the nucleus for this last generation or so… Since CPL has come in, yes it’s a franchise-based system, but we’ve only had the opportunity to recycle the same players over and over again.”

Freddie Wilde is Head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.

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