A mismatch in the making
The Frank Worrell Trophy series is just two days old and already the vultures are circling. Injuries, a jet-setting captain and now a lopsided first innings are threatening to send West Indies cricket deeper into the abyss and relegate this series to after-thought status with the Australian sporting public.
West Indies were always expected to struggle on a tour on which strikers and opportunists from the region's long-running pay dispute were reunited for the first time. Not since 1997 have West Indies tasted victory on these shores - a span that included eight straight defeats - and with a driven Australia intent on atoning for their Ashes disappointment, a win appeared a goal too lofty.
The hope, then, was for competition similar to that which West Indies offered Australia on last year's tour of the Caribbean. Alas, that too now seems optimistic. An innings-and-a-half into this series and the chasm in talent and aptitude between the sides looked every bit as wide as it was during West Indies' 2005-06 (3-0) and 2000-01 (5-0) tours of Australia. A depleted pace attack and a brittle top-order served only to fuel the notion that this is a series in the imbalance.
By stumps on day two, Travis Dowlin and Denesh Ramdin, having forged an unbroken 38-run sixth wicket partnership to momentarily repel the hard-charging Mitchell Johnson, were all that stood between the tourists and calamity. A rare Australian first-innings declaration followed by five rapid West Indian wickets positioned the hosts for victory well inside five days. The most pressing question entering the weekend is whether Ricky Ponting will seek to enforce the follow-on if given the chance.
"I'm a bit disappointed with the way things went," Ramdin said after play. "We lost probably two wickets more than we expected. Having said that, Travis and I are there and batting quite well at the moment. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."
To achieve competitiveness, West Indies needed fortune to smile upon them throughout the tour. Instead, it abandoned them altogether. Chris Gayle's mercy dash to be at his mother's bedside in Jamaica added to the litany of distractions to have plagued the touring party, and injuries to Ramnaresh Sarwan and Jerome Taylor this week have exposed the shallowness of the talent pool in the Caribbean.
Exacerbating matters further was their frivolous use of the Umpire Decision Review System on Friday. Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul burned both the lifelines against decisions that never looked like being overturned, leaving the likes of Dowlin and Ramdin at the mercy of human error. "I can't really say much about the decisions," Ramdin said. The less said the better.
This is a West Indian team in regression. Again. Having subjected their loyal supporters to a decade of drudgery, the Windies finally appeared to be on the rise when, two years ago, they commenced a heartening sequence highlighted by victories over South Africa, Sri Lanka and England, and a close-run series against Australia. Now, they face a fifth straight Test defeat and a winless stretch spanning nine matches. And Gayle wonders why the five-day game is losing its appeal with the Caribbean public.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo