Follow the leader
Ricky Ponting now leads Australia instead of guiding them and his team needed the intervention on a testing opening day. Making the decisions for a remodelled side, sporting faces that haven't weathered under constant success, Ponting stretched as his fresh charges faltered against a fast, probing and erratic West Indies attack.
Before the match Ponting asked for greater productivity from his senior batsmen to prop up a green middle order and the caretakers had little choice as Corey Collymore lopped them to 4 for 111 during the second session. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist chipped in, but it was Ponting who imbibed his own advice and wrested control.
As Collymore dented a tentative line-up, Ponting stamped 149 runs with an authority his new and recent additions must look to copy in future attempts. Australia have handed out shiny memberships and offered greater responsibility, but the players winning the bonuses were unsure how to cope with the extra swipe-card access and West Indies exploited their vulnerability.
The debutant Michael Hussey couldn't find the easy single to settle nerves 11 seasons in the making, managing only a personally devastating top edge while aiming his opening boundary. Michael Clarke's instinct also insists he hits out and his dismissal following a superb lead-up from Collymore did not show the problem of adapting to No. 4 as much as his single boundary, a streaky yet firm slash through gully. The lack of movement indicated his feet are also finding the promotion difficult.
A year ago Clarke was a No. 6 locked in by walls of experience, which he outshone in scoring his second century. He has not reached three figures since then and has been pushed up two batting rungs. The dropping of Damien Martyn has removed a regular block and Clarke is receiving one-on-one tutelage from Ponting without immediate results to boost confidence and team totals. More worryingly for a young player, he is already speaking about proving people wrong, a sentence that usually comes from deposed veterans or under-siege tour captains.
Katich is another batsman promoted ahead of schedule as Australia shed their Ashes image, and with every failure - today's zero was his fourth single-figure score in a row - Brad Hodge moves closer to a Test cap. Collymore's role in both dismissals should not be under-rated but Australian belts in the middle order need tightening.
"What's going on?" asked a spectator in the member's section as Katich left. The situation was again stabilised by Ponting, who reached his fourth consecutive hundred against West Indies, and when Gilchrist departed he watched as Shane Watson, playing his third Test, also battled to impose himself.
The tourists' senior bowler, Collymore has the respect of his cohorts and will be watched more closely by the Australians in subsequent innings. His run-up is a reminder of Courtney Walsh and today his destructive powers were similar. Overlooked for the new ball, he grabbed a wicket in each of his first overs after lunch and tea with tight lbw decisions. Apart from disrupting Australia's momentum by removing Gilchrist and Hayden, he also eased any tension created by Shivnarine Chanderpaul's decision to bowl.
While Fidel Edwards sprinted in and let go in the mid-140kph range, Collymore delivered up to 20kph slower, darting the ball both ways to pop Australia's middle order as easily as security guards spike the crowd's errant beach balls. Three deliveries came in to Clarke before the wicketkeeper caught his edge moving away, and when Katich was cleverly beaten Australia had lost 3 for 10. Collymore's team-mates will also push to match his consistency as Ponting enjoyed the variable length of his partners.
Australia's matters remained in Ponting's impressive hands and wrists that flicked crisp boundaries and offered chances on 81 and 141. The example was valuable to an impressionable core as the captain steered his side from trouble to relative comfort.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo