Victoria hold the aces on rain-curtailed day
West Indians 4 for 144 (Samuels 50) trail Victoria 571 (Hodge 177, Hussey 104, White 63, Smith 3-50) by 427 runs
Nowhere else in the confined world of cricket are the West Indies held in such high esteem and regarded with such fondness as in Australia.
But the cherished memories of the great series, teams and players of the past are fading. They are being replaced by general frustration at the declining standards of the recent representatives who carry the responsibility of upholding the great tradition. The disillusionment has been typified over the past week by the meek surrender in the first Test and, even more starkly, by the abject performance against Victoria.
"The question must be asked whether it is really good for Australia's progress to play a team that would struggle to be competitive in the Pura Cup (inter-state completion)?," Robert Craddock, one of Australia's best known writers, declared in his column following the First Test. Such a slur was sufficient to raise the hackles of West Indians who recall the decade of the 1980s when the same humiliating point could be made - but never was - about Australian teams routinely thrashed by those under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards and by even greater margins than that in Brisbane.
But the case cannot be argued against hard evidence, the most recent presented on the first two days of the match against Victoria in front of a smattering of a few hundred spectators at the Junction Oval. The skeleton scores are damning enough: Victoria 571, the West Indies 144 for four. The supplementary details compound the embarrassment. Two Victorians blazed hundreds at virtually run-a-ball rate - Brad Hodge, who takes his place in Australia's team for the first time in second Test on Thursday,177 off 179 balls, David Hussey, whose brother Mike opens the batting in the Test, 104 off 109 balls.
Victoria's batsmen smashed 10 sixes and 46 fours between them off bowlers who gave away 29 no-balls and 12 wides among 56 extras. None of the three main fast bowlers took a wicket, conceding 271 runs from 56 overs. Their fielders put down four catches, their wicket-keeper one.
When the West Indies batted, there were a volley of handsome strokes from Devon Smith and Marlon Samuels but no one seemed minded to take advantage of an inviting pitch. Like Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan before them, both were out to careless shots. It was typical of much of the West Indies cricket in recent times. What made it even more galling was the realisation that two weeks earlier, they were dominating and all but beating Queensland, a state with stronger personnel and a better record than Victoria over the past decade. It was a show that prompted real optimism for their first truly competitive series against Australia since 1999. The foundation of that hope has rapidly crumbled to dust.
Yesterday's second day against Victoria, as the first, started and ended badly. The bit in between was only marginally less excruciating than the day before when Hodge, Hussey and their various accomplices were rampaging along at five runs an over.
Hussey resumed at 91 and should have advanced no further. Fidel Edwards induced an outside edge in the first over of the day, with the new ball, only for Gayle at first slip to spill a straightforward chance. Sarwan, stationed at short mid-wicket two balls earlier, followed Gayle's lead dropping a low chance from Mick Lewis off Dwayne Bravo and Tino Best let another go at mid-on from Adam Croswaithe off Dwayne Smith. Hussey duly converted his luck into his hundred and was then half-way down the pitch seeking a single his captain, Cameron White, declined. Edwards calmly ran him out. Crosthwaite kept going to the last until he became Smith's third wicket. Bravo claimed the other two to catches by wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin.
They were rewards for medium-pace bowling that observed basic control of line and length. In contrast, Best and Edwards were again punished whenever they over-pitched or dropped short which was too regular. Jermaine Lawson did not reappear, receiving treatment from physiotherapist Stephen Partridge for a sore hip. He and Best are likely to have had their last match on tour.
More than half the day remained for the batsmen to use the opportunity for easy runs in the ideal conditions, just as Victoria's did. All wasted it. Gayle's timing at present is all askew, his big drives finding anywhere but the middle of the bat. Three times they clipped the edge, the last yielding a catch to the keeper of the tall left-armer Allan Wise.
Sarwan cut his 15th ball straight into gully's midrift off Mick Lewis, a swing bowler considered in contention for an eventual Test place. Smith, after stroking six certain off-side fours in 34, was caught in the first over after tea in the same position off Gary Siddle but, this time, Michael Klinger had to fling himself to his left to cling onto to a sliced drive. For the next hour or so, Samuels presented a thrilling selection of effortless strokes, a punch off the backfoot to the straight boundary off Lewis the most delightful.
There were five fours in all and also two sixes, one off leg-spinner White over extra-cover on the short side boundary, but then came the predictable soft dismissal, a catch to deep cover trying for another six off White.