Most dominant Test side ever

The Invincibles, Lloyd’s West Indians, Waugh’s Australians and others are in the mix. Who’s on top?

S Rajesh

This is one of the favourite topics for debate among any group of cricket diehards: which is the best team to have played Test cricket? It’s a topic which, quite justifiably, elicits strong opinions: does Bradman’s team of the 1930s and ’40s remain the best side ever? Or is it the West Indian team of the 1980s? Anyone who has seen the records of the Australian team of the 2000s can’t ignore their claims to greatness either. And then there are other sides that have briefly flirted with greatness: South Africa won eight out of 12 Tests during the late 1960s, just before they were banned, while England in the 1950s won 36 Tests and lost 13 out of 72 matches.

However, when comparing the numbers, three teams stand out for their sheer domination of the rest of the field. The Australian side, during an extended period from 1930 to November 1952 – interrupted for almost eight years by the War – won 46 out of 70 Tests, and lost only 12. During that period, they won 13 out of 15 series, losing one (the Bodyline series in 1932-33), and drawing one (in England in 1938). The Australian side of the 2000s was, if anything, even more dominant. Between October 1999 and November 2007, they played 93 Tests, and won a mind-boggling 72 of them. One of the remarkable features of their domination was the fact that they played out only 11 draws in 93 games. In 28 series during this period (excluding the one-off Super Test and a series in Zimbabwe), they won 24, and lost and drew two each. And then, of course, was the West Indies team of the 1980s and the early ’90s, which went 15 years without losing a Test series. Towards the end of that period they began to lose a few Tests along the way, but their best period was between February 1981 and December 1989: in 69 Tests in that span, they had a 40-7 win-loss record. (Between January 1990 and March 1995, it dropped to 20-9.) During their eight greatest years, they played 16 series, won 11 and drew five.

All of these teams were remarkable because they set high standards and maintained them over long periods of time. In terms of sheer numbers, the Australian side of the 2000s looks better than the other two: they won a higher percentage of games, had a higher win-loss ratio, and had a greater difference between their batting and bowling averages than the other two sides.

Do these stats make that Australian team the greatest of all time? The jury will be out on that one, for often numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. (Does 16 Grand Slam titles make Roger Federer the best male tennis player of all time? There are some who believe not.) What the numbers do show, though, is that the Australian team of the 2000s is arguably the most dominant team to have played the game. The difference of 17.14 between their batting and bowling averages shows that they were way better than most of their competition during this period. The two series losses during this period – to India and England – spoils the record a bit, but the sheer number of matches they won is awe-inspiring.

The golden periods for Australia and West Indies

Team

Period

Tests

W/L

Ratio

Bat ave

Bowl ave

Diff

Australia

Jan 1930-Nov 1952

70

46/ 12

3.83

38.22

26.40

11.82

West Indies

Feb 1981-Dec 1989

69

40/ 7

5.71

36.27

26.13

10.14

Australia

Oct 1999-Nov 2007

93

72/ 10

7.20

44.39

27.25

17.14

One of the arguments put forward against some of the domination is the quality of the opposition. In the 1930s and ’40s, did Australia have any other significant challenge than England? Similarly, in the 2000s how many teams were up for the fight against Australia? One way to separate the tougher competition from the rest is to look at the win-loss record of the other sides during each of these periods against opposition other than the dominant side. Doing that, and comparing the stats of the other teams, it emerges that:

  • Between 1930 and 1952, Australia’s major competition came from England and West Indies. Both these teams had win-loss ratios of more than 1.5 against teams other than Australia, but the others all had ratios of less than 0.6 against teams other than Australia.
  • During West Indies’ dominant period, all teams except Sri Lanka had win-loss ratios of 0.9 or more against teams other than West Indies. That means Australia, England, Pakistan, New Zealand, and India were all credible opposition for them.
  • During the era of the recent Australian domination, all teams other than West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe had ratios of more than 0.75 against teams other than Australia. (It’s a shame that the most dominant team of the 1980s is left out of discussion in the early 2000s because they aren’t good enough to compete, but that’s a telling commentary of how far West Indies have fallen.)

Looking at performances only against the relatively stronger teams, what emerges is that both the Australian sides played about 20 Tests against the weaker outfits, but the West Indies team of the 1980s played against relatively good opposition throughout – they didn’t play a single Test against Sri Lanka during that period.

In terms of numbers, the win-loss ratio for the Australian team of the 1930s and ’40s dipped to 2.33, a drop of almost 40% from their ratio against all teams. Against England, the Australians won 20 and lost 10 Tests, while the record was 8-2 against West Indies; against the other sides – South Africa, India and New Zealand – Australia won 18 out of 21, and drew the other three.

The performances of the Australian team of the 2000s dipped a bit too against the better teams, but only by about 18% – their win-loss ratio came down from 7.2 to 5.88. The teams that gave the Australians the most trouble were India (7-4 record in 14 games), and England (14-4 in 20 Tests), but against the three weak teams – West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – Australia have a combined win-loss record of 18-1, with no draws. Even after excluding those matches, though, Australia have a superb record, with a marginally better win-loss ratio that the 1980s West Indies.

To be continued, next issue

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

The Invincibles, Lloyd’s West Indians, Waugh’s Australians and others are in the mix. Who’s on top?

S Rajesh

This is one of the favourite topics for debate among any group of cricket diehards: which is the best team to have played Test cricket? It’s a topic which, quite justifiably, elicits strong opinions: does Bradman’s team of the 1930s and ’40s remain the best side ever? Or is it the West Indian team of the 1980s? Anyone who has seen the records of the Australian team of the 2000s can’t ignore their claims to greatness either. And then there are other sides that have briefly flirted with greatness: South Africa won eight out of 12 Tests during the late 1960s, just before they were banned, while England in the 1950s won 36 Tests and lost 13 out of 72 matches.

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However, when comparing the numbers, three teams stand out for their sheer domination of the rest of the field. The Australian side, during an extended period from 1930 to November 1952 – interrupted for almost eight years by the War – won 46 out of 70 Tests, and lost only 12. During that period, they won 13 out of 15 series, losing one (the Bodyline series in 1932-33), and drawing one (in England in 1938). The Australian side of the 2000s was, if anything, even more dominant. Between October 1999 and November 2007, they played 93 Tests, and won a mind-boggling 72 of them. One of the remarkable features of their domination was the fact that they played out only 11 draws in 93 games. In 28 series during this period (excluding the one-off Super Test and a series in Zimbabwe), they won 24, and lost and drew two each. And then, of course, was the West Indies team of the 1980s and the early ’90s, which went 15 years without losing a Test series. Towards the end of that period they began to lose a few Tests along the way, but their best period was between February 1981 and December 1989: in 69 Tests in that span, they had a 40-7 win-loss record. (Between January 1990 and March 1995, it dropped to 20-9.) During their eight greatest years, they played 16 series, won 11 and drew five.

All of these teams were remarkable because they set high standards and maintained them over long periods of time. In terms of sheer numbers, the Australian side of the 2000s looks better than the other two: they won a higher percentage of games, had a higher win-loss ratio, and had a greater difference between their batting and bowling averages than the other two sides.

Do these stats make that Australian team the greatest of all time? The jury will be out on that one, for often numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. (Does 16 Grand Slam titles make Roger Federer the best male tennis player of all time? There are some who believe not.) What the numbers do show, though, is that the Australian team of the 2000s is arguably the most dominant team to have played the game. The difference of 17.14 between their batting and bowling averages shows that they were way better than most of their competition during this period. The two series losses during this period – to India and England – spoils the record a bit, but the sheer number of matches they won is awe-inspiring.

The golden periods for Australia and West Indies

Team

Period

Tests

W/L

Ratio

Bat ave

Bowl ave

Diff

Australia

Jan 1930-Nov 1952

70

46/ 12

3.83

38.22

26.40

11.82

West Indies

Feb 1981-Dec 1989

69

40/ 7

5.71

36.27

26.13

10.14

Australia

Oct 1999-Nov 2007

93

72/ 10

7.20

44.39

27.25

17.14

One of the arguments put forward against some of the domination is the quality of the opposition. In the 1930s and ’40s, did Australia have any other significant challenge than England? Similarly, in the 2000s how many teams were up for the fight against Australia? One way to separate the tougher competition from the rest is to look at the win-loss record of the other sides during each of these periods against opposition other than the dominant side. Doing that, and comparing the stats of the other teams, it emerges that:

Looking at performances only against the relatively stronger teams, what emerges is that both the Australian sides played about 20 Tests against the weaker outfits, but the West Indies team of the 1980s played against relatively good opposition throughout – they didn’t play a single Test against Sri Lanka during that period.

In terms of numbers, the win-loss ratio for the Australian team of the 1930s and ’40s dipped to 2.33, a drop of almost 40% from their ratio against all teams. Against England, the Australians won 20 and lost 10 Tests, while the record was 8-2 against West Indies; against the other sides – South Africa, India and New Zealand – Australia won 18 out of 21, and drew the other three.

The performances of the Australian team of the 2000s dipped a bit too against the better teams, but only by about 18% – their win-loss ratio came down from 7.2 to 5.88. The teams that gave the Australians the most trouble were India (7-4 record in 14 games), and England (14-4 in 20 Tests), but against the three weak teams – West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – Australia have a combined win-loss record of 18-1, with no draws. Even after excluding those matches, though, Australia have a superb record, with a marginally better win-loss ratio that the 1980s West Indies.

To be continued, next issue