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December 15, 2009
Chris Gayle hasn't seen much success in West Indies cricket in recent years. They have won three of their past 41 Tests; by comparison, Australia have triumphed in 25 of their past 41 matches. The chasm between the two teams in the past few seasons has been enormous. That's why, with one Test remaining on this tour, West Indies would value a drawn series as a win.
To achieve that, they must build on the progress they made in Adelaide, where they had the better of the draw. The outcome meant that as the reigning holders of the Frank Worrell Trophy, Australia retained the prize but on the eve of the third Test in Perth, Gayle jokingly said that a West Indies victory would be so important that his men would deserve the trophy.
"Getting a one-all result, that would be great, it would be fantastic," Gayle said. "Australia will still hold the trophy, but if it do happen, they should give us a trophy. I think we'll actually deserve it if we win this Test match, we're looking forward to it and if that do happen they should hand it to us."
Gayle's wide smile confirmed that he was being tongue-in-cheek but having been involved in so many low points for his team over the past few years, he no doubt felt that such a result would be a cause for major celebration. Adding to his optimism was the fact that Australia will be without Peter Siddle and potentially Nathan Hauritz, and will have one or two debutants in their attack.
Although those changes could make Australia more exposed, West Indies are also facing up to the likelihood that Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Adrian Barath won't play due to injuries. Gayle knows that much will depend on how his own bowlers challenge Australia's batsmen, who he believes are in form without being invulnerable.
"It's cricket, anything can happen on any given day, it doesn't matter what sort of team you have out there, they can still crumble," he said. "Once you get it right definitely we can put a bit of pressure on them, and we'll see what happens when the pressure is out there. It can be a totally different ball game."
Gayle has spoken to his fastest bowler, Kemar Roach, about the need to convert his good bowling into bigger bags of wickets. The Perth conditions might suit Roach's speed and Gayle was confident West Indies' young fast men would not be lured into bowling too short, simply because of the WACA's reputation for sharp bounce.
"You can't get carried away when you come into these situations," Gayle said. "They're keen and they're getting to know their game a bit more, so I'm sure they will understand to go out there and assess the conditions as quickly as possible, and then work on the team point of view."
It's still unclear just how much pace and carry the WACA surface will have. The Perth Test pitches over the past couple of years have drawn criticism from Ricky Ponting, who wants to see a return to the trademark fast-bowling paradise of the 1970s and 1980s. The curator Cam Sutherland has prepared a pitch that has barely been used before and on the day before the Test, Ponting was cautiously optimistic.
"The weather's been quite warm here so I'd imagine by tomorrow morning it'll be quite hard on top with a reasonable cover of grass," Ponting said. "That normally indicates good pace and bounce in Perth, so we'll wait and see how the game starts. All reports from the state players are that it's been quite quick and bouncy."
While West Indies are hoping for a 1-1 result, Australia can answer some of the criticism after the Adelaide draw if they can secure a 2-0 series win. The task has been made harder with the absence of Siddle and the inclusion of the debutant Clint McKay, but Ponting was confident he had the men to deliver Australia's first Test victory at the WACA in three seasons.
"Clint, who's only been playing first-class cricket for a couple of years, will have played a few games here and know the right way to bowl here," Ponting said. "Dougie [Bollinger] has had good success here only a couple of weeks ago, taking eight wickets [in a Sheffield Shield game].
"Although some of the guys are relatively inexperienced at Test level they've all played a fair share of cricket here and should know how to adapt and adjust to these conditions. We know it is a place that fast bowlers can come and get a little bit carried away with things, with the way the ball carries and the bounce in the wicket but our guys should have a better and pretty good understanding of that."
One thing that is certain is that Australia won't be handing over the Frank Worrell Trophy, regardless of the result. But West Indies have far more to gain than a piece of silverware.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the 4th ODI between England and India at Edgbaston