Katich leads fight towards healthy total
West Indies refused to let Australia run away with the first Test, but the hosts have the stronger position after a bright opening to the contest. The local batsmen, the ones whose first-innings lapses cost the side in England, failed to convert a series of promising starts, with four of them departing between 41 and 92 as they went to stumps at 5 for 322.
Those lapses may not prove costly but the pattern exposed the Test rust of a group that has been heavily focussed on limited-overs engagements recently. Simon Katich, who was able to warm up with a couple of games in the Sheffield Shield, was the most composed as he almost reached three figures, but Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey fell when set and Michael Clarke's international comeback from a lengthy back injury ended in a one-day style slash that was snapped up by a lunging Chris Gayle at first slip.
While West Indies appeared to be out of touch on a couple of occasions, they kept fighting back with energetic bowling and some local generosity on an excellent surface at the Gabba. Dwayne Bravo removed Clarke (41) and also picked up Katich in his 2 for 66 while Jerome Taylor, who gained a sore hip, and Kemar Roach were also tricky at times. The tourists must remember this ground has staged many first days like this, where the hosts seem in range before racing away on the second morning.
Marcus North and Brad Haddin (9) have the task of driving their side forward after surviving through the afternoon shadows. Like Katich, North has spent a lot of time with his first-class side already this season and he did not allow any openings as he finished with 42.
Katich and Ponting made sure the loss of Shane Watson - he starred with the one-day team in India - before the team had scored was forgotten quickly during a settling stand of 126. Everything was happening so easily that the field was spreading and the shoulders of the tourists were beginning to sag. The exits of Ponting and Katich in the middle session kept the mind of Chris Gayle, the jet-lagged captain, busy as he plotted against the Australians.
As the pitch offered the bowlers some help in the first half of the day, Katich was able to switch between defence and attack as easily as the wind changes and the increase in tempo was always a shock. He started cautiously before breaking free with a hook and a handful of firm cuts and then wound down again. The next time he changed pace he launched into action against the debutant Ravi Rampaul, driving through cover for four and pulling him for six in consecutive balls. Another lull followed.
He was accelerating again, hitting strongly through cover, shortly before his dismissal and had a reprieve on 81 when Sulieman Benn missed a take above his head. Bravo was the unlucky bowler but didn't have to wait for long for his reward, with Katich frustrated to glance to Denesh Ramdin just before tea. There were 13 fours and a six in Katich's 92 and he left the field with his side in reasonable shape at 3 for 200.
Ponting was troubled a couple of times by deliveries coming back into him but was able to ease to a half-century, which came with a hooked six over fine-leg in the over before lunch. After the break Ponting was again worried by a ball darting in and Roach was unlucky to miss out on a leg-before decision. Two runs later Ponting tried to defend and edged behind for 55.
Hussey entered and was immediately uncomfortable, playing, missing and squirting thick edges between the slips and gully for a couple of boundaries. His mood changed when Gayle stirred and came on for an over to allow boundaries to point and cover. Hussey joined the list of those to falter when in control and gave Benn a wicket with a caught-and-bowled on 66. Another strong start had been given up.
The persistence of the visitors was admirable as they moulded the experience of Taylor and Bravo with the youth of Roach and Rampaul. Taylor and Roach caused batches of trouble while Rampaul was off the pace as he gave up more than five an over during a nervy entry.
West Indies' day started badly when Ramnaresh Sarwan, the No. 3, was ruled out with a back injury, but they were lifted in the third over as Watson was lbw not offering a shot to Taylor. By stumps their position was bearable and their future in the game depends on how their fast men back up in the morning.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo