Australia lose fizz after Bollinger bubbles
Doug Bollinger was responsible for a sudden swing from flooding runs to raining wickets before West Indies surged back to remain in contention in the deciding third Test. Despite falling to a worrying 8 for 137 in their second innings, Australia still managed an enviable position and will enter the fourth day with a 345-run lead following the scare.
Bollinger grabbed 5 for 70 and ensured an advantage of 208 for the hosts before Ricky Ponting did not enforce the follow-on and ordered his team to provide a match-winning total. That assignment became a severe struggle when West Indies were inspired by Dwayne Bravo and Sulieman Benn on a cracking surface that is becoming less predictable. The turnaround was a shock just 24 hours after Chris Gayle blazed a 70-ball century, with the highest score of the day a gritty 44 from Brendan Nash as 16 wickets fell for 235 runs.
Australia were surprised by the ferocity of the fightback and Ponting, who retired hurt on 23 in the first innings, decided to walk out an hour after saying he wouldn't bat unless it was absolutely necessary. He is not used to such dramatic changes. Ponting suffered tendon damage in his left elbow when hit by Kemar Roach on Wednesday and until his batsmen started disappearing he would have been more worried about being in doubt for the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.
At 7 for 125, following Mitchell Johnson's dismissal, Ponting arrived and lasted six balls for 2 before his discomfort forced a pushed catch to short leg off his new nemesis Roach. There was some consolation in him leaving knowing Australia's lead is still significant and that only South Africa have scored more to win in Perth. Although the voices of the West Indians grew happier with each breakthrough, the pitch will deteriorate further and the tourists will need a Gayle-inspired masterpiece to level the three-game series.
In Brisbane Ponting followed-on and soon lost Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle to injury, so even without the influence of the conditions he was not going to ask Gayle to bat again straight away. The target-setting didn't go to plan, but the run of low scores showed how difficult run-making had become.
Australia lost Simon Katich (10) when he shuffled across too far to Ravi Rampaul and then gained a glimpse of the future when Clarke walked out in Ponting's place at No. 3. However, Clarke edged behind on 25 to Bravo, who came back to remove Marcus North with a one-handed take from Denesh Ramdin and knocked over Johnson. Bravo's 3 for 34 came from 15 straight overs and he was responsible, along with Benn's 2 for 26, for keeping his side in with a chance.
The opener Watson looked in good touch again, got a start again, and was lbw again. He over-balanced a touch trying to whip Gavin Tonge through midwicket and gave the bowler his first Test wicket. During his innings Watson had continued his series-long arguing with Benn, who popped up to claim Michael Hussey at short leg in his first over.
West Indies were excited and the hosts were starting to shudder, with North taking 27 balls for his single. Benn lost his exchange with Haddin yesterday when he was suspended for two one-day games, but he succeeded in dismissing the wicketkeeper for 23 with an edge to Bravo at first slip. The emotional afternoon concluded with Nathan Hauritz on 11 and the debutant Clint McKay on 1.
The only man to come was Bollinger, who gained his first five-for in his third Test as he stamped himself as a long-term option during an energetic display. He began with the wicket of Ramnaresh Sarwan (42) from the day's second ball and came back after lunch to spark a game-changing collapse of 6 for 27. Don't start worrying yet about a relapse in the West Indian batting because the challenging bowling was responsible for the majority of wickets.
Nash and Bravo had fought through most of the first session for a 46-run partnership, but then both pillars fell in three overs and the air was taken from the visitors' pursuit. Bravo touched a ball angling across him from Bollinger to Haddin while Hauritz had Nash dropped at first slip by Clarke at first slip before the fielder corrected the mistake in the offspinner's following over. Hauritz (3 for 66), who had been targeted by Gayle on day two, was suddenly a huge threat for the tail and he removed Benn and Rampaul to catches behind in the same over.
Bollinger followed up by bowling Ramdin behind his legs and gained his fifth breakthrough to end the innings. After the third wicket Bollinger kissed the badge on his shirt and when he closed out the innings - Tonge gave Haddin his fourth catch - he lifted the ball self-consciously to the crowd.
During the first session Johnson was more imposing than the previous day, forcing the batsmen on to the back foot to hop and jump, and his prize was the dismissal of Narsingh Deonarine, who drove to Watson at cover on 18. Johnson's overnight figures of 1 for 68 off 11 turned into 2 for 92 off 18 in a boost for the second innings, when he will be as important as Bollinger and Gayle.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo