After dominating the first three days, the West Indies seemingly believed that the job was done and decided to not bother turning up for the final two, allowing the Australians to grab a remarkable victory as the light faded on the final day. Whilst the final result was predicted by many at the outset, the contest provided enough competing sub-stories to suggest that the next two Test matches could be gripping affairs.
Oh dear. Coming into this Test match it was the opinion of many, including us here at 51allout, that despite a promising limited overs series the West Indian batting was not up to the task of denying the much improved Australian fast bowling battery. How wrong we all appeared to be. It is clear that the West Indian batsmen entered this match with the determination first and foremost not to lose it, and in the process prove that they were not going to be bullied around in Test cricket any more, particularly not on their home decks.
Unlike the recent Indian tourists in Australia, who were happy to throw the bat at anything outside off stump in order to earn a few days extra go-karting time between Tests, the West Indian batsman were determined to show more patience at the wicket, an approach exemplified by Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s epic first innings century. That this approach didn’t sit well with everyone made itself apparent in a number of brainless dismissals; Adrian Barath’s mistimed hook shoot after a solid hour’s work against the new ball in the first innings was a particularly ill-conceived stroke.
With the ball the hosts were less threatening. The much-maligned Darren Sammy bowled an aggressive line and deserved more than the three wickets he took for the match. Otherwise there was little bite in the Windies attack. Bishoo in particular was disappointing in conditions that should have suited, offering up far too many pressure relieving loose deliveries that Sunil Narine may not have gifted the batsmen, had he been given the opportunity to play.
In the second innings the West Indian’s composure deserted them. Firstly they fell in droves to straight full length deliveries, then reverted to lofting the ball to long-on in an attempt to hit themselves to safety. Ultimately, despite their stubborn showing in the first innings, the West Indian batsman were simply unable to bat long enough to secure the draw they sought.
Wow. For this correspondent at least, the Australian performance of the first three days brought back sharp memories of the horrific southern summer before last. Memories that had been thought to have been purged through the assistance of enormous quantities of cheap gin came rushing back. Utterly ineffective bowling, dropped catches, comedy runouts. At one stage I thought I saw pasty English tourists performing the ‘sprinkler’ in the outfield. The horror.
The revival on the fourth and fifth days thankfully put paid to such disturbing apparitions. Some aggressive lower order batting on the fourth morning, led by Ryan Harris, was backed up with some much improved bowling in the West Indian second innings, as Hilfenhaus and co remembered the length that brought them such success a few months ago.
Aside from these strong performances, the match was something of a disaster for Australia. Their batsmen contrived to throw their wickets away at regular intervals, their fielding was abysmal, and their bowlers had no answers to the West Indian stonewall tactics. If the hosts had not been so gracious in gifting them the game, it could have been a heavy loss and severe blow of confidence to the rebuilding tourists.
In particular, two players under a great deal of pressure before the series began had a match to forget. Ed Cowan once again occupied the crease whilst offering little else, and in both innings threw away his wicket after seemingly set for a big score. Nathan Lyon also had a nightmare game. Aside from dropping a sitter in the second innings, he only took one wicket for the match. To put that in perspective, that’s half of David Warner’s tally. Lyon, who burst onto the Test scene against Sri Lanka last year, has since seen his bowling average balloon dramatically. He’s not in danger of being dropped from the squad just yet, but the media pressure is growing. In one piece of good news for the tourists, Matthew Wade had a solid game behind the stumps, which would have reassured those who are sceptical about the quality of his glove-work.
The series now moves to Port of Spain, where the second Test begins on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how the hosts react now that they are behind. It’s to be hoped that they will regain the composure that enabled them to render the Australian bowling attack toothless in the first innings, but the suspicion is that after this scarring affair they will offer only sporadic resistance from here on in. The tourists will be hoping for a stronger contribution from across the board, whilst a couple of players will be just beginning to look over their shoulders.