Peter Siddle tops bowling concerns
For Ricky Ponting, there is much to ponder. Pushed to the wire by the world's eighth-ranked Test side in Adelaide, the Australian captain will be acutely aware of the areas his squad needs to address before the third and final Test at the WACA, even if he was loath to admit as much at Tuesday's post-match press conference.
The most pressing concern surrounds the make-up of Australia's fast bowling unit given the strong possibility that Peter Siddle is ruled out. Siddle's hamstring injury limited him to just eight constricted overs in the second innings, and even a minor twinge can often require more than eight days recuperation time. With Ben Hilfenhaus already sidelined with knee tendonitis, the Australians are faced with the prospect of blooding a debutant in Clint McKay, the 12th man in Adelaide, or sending an SOS to the more seasoned Stuart Clark, who has been overlooked since Australia's Ashes defeat at The Oval.
"Hopefully Peter comes up," Ponting said. "I had to protect him a little bit yesterday. As you could see with the way he was running in he was nowhere near 100 percent yesterday. It was a good effort from him to get any bowling done at all. We've just got to monitor him over the next couple of days. He's going back to Melbourne and our team physio, Alex (Kountouris), will be spending the next couple of days with him to monitor how he's going. He'll let the selectors know how he is before they pick the squad for Perth. We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope he comes up OK."
Siddle's physical limitations hardly helped the Australians in their ongoing battle to claim 20 wickets. A lack of penetrative bowling options has cost them dearly in recent losing campaigns to India, South Africa and England, and their failure to take quick wickets in the second innings in Adelaide exposed them to the possibility of a demoralising defeat that might have taken years to live down.
Mitchell Johnson claimed five mainly lower-order wickets, but conceded runs at almost five-per-over. Doug Bollinger bowled with elan and menace, if not discipline, while Shane Watson was used sparingly on account of his already heavy workload at the top of the order. Nathan Hauritz was relied upon heavily to provide the Australians with a breakthrough on a wearing Adelaide pitch, but could not crack the resolute defences of the West Indian batsmen, most notably Chris Gayle.
Ponting stoutly defended Hauritz's performance over the five days, and favoured him to retain his place in the starting XI for the Perth Test. Still, in games such as this, the Australian captain must yearn for a spinner capable of dominating on fourth and fifth-day surfaces, rather than banking on subtlety and attrition. Until Hauritz achieves that, the search for Australia's next generation spinner will remain open.
"I thought the way he stuck to his task and tried to deliver a role for the team was pretty admirable," Ponting said of Hauritz. "It was only last week that he bowled on a wicket that didn't suit and picked up five or six wickets. He bowled well here, he just didn't get the rewards. A lot of that was probably due to how well Chris Gayle played him. He played him exceptionally well. Going to Perth, we know it's a wicket that does offer some assistance to the quicks, but the breeze over there generally helps the finger spinners there more than the leg spinners. I expect Nathan to play in Perth."
A more elusive problem confronting Ponting is the failure of his batsmen to convert starts into centuries. No Australian batsman has reached triple-figures this summer, and of their past 13 half-centuries raised, only one has resulted in a ton. That conversion was made by Michael Hussey, whose innings of fighting innings of 121 at The Oval in August almost certainly spared him the selectors' axe after a wretched year. Hussey, alas, has failed to reach peak form since his return to Australia, relying on guile and determination to cover for his ongoing uncertainty outside off stump.
"I wouldn't say it's disappointing," Ponting said of Australia's batting performance. "If you don't win it sometimes can be a little bit disappointing, but you've got to give the West Indies some credit for the way they've played this game. From lunch on the first day they've really played some good cricket."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo