West Indies bid to avoid whitewash
As Australia and the West Indies begin the third and final Test match at Adelaide on November 25, Tony Cozier previews what West Indies must do to avoid another series whitewash, and comments on that flawed genius gearing up for what could be his final Test Down Under - Brian Charles Lara.
It was the case in India in 2003, in their two home and away series against England last year and in the last two against Australia in Australia in 2000-01 and the Caribbean in 2003. It has developed into a perverse motivation when a series has already been lost. So it is this time.
Australia have already retained the Frank Worrell Trophy with victories in the previous two matches as comprehensive as any they have had since the first Test between the teams 75 years ago, in December 1930, at the same Adelaide Oval that is again the venue. Now there are other incentives beyond the avoidance of an Australian clean sweep that might just spark a team so far lacking collective enthusiasm.
There is a poignancy to the absence of Chris Gayle, an experienced and popular member of the team, that should heighten resolve, not depress it. The tall left-handed opener is recuperating in Melbourne after what is described as minor heart surgery, a seeming contradiction in terms, so there is a unique reason for his team-mates to raise their game to fill the breach.
It is also a special occasion, almost certainly Brian Lara's last Test in Australia. It was in Australia that he introduced himself as an exceptional player 13 years ago with the first of his three-figure innings, his 277 in Sydney, in the judgement of many, myself among them, the best of his 30. It would be a travesty for him to leave the scene with another team loss and another whitewash. He has been hard done by in the previous two Tests by faulty umpiring and carries only 102 runs into the match, but he looked more determined and in better touch in the second innings of the previous Test in Hobart than he has done in Australia this season that started with the Super Series matches for the World XI.
With its usually batsman-friendly pitch, short side boundaries, manicured outfield and alluring environment, Adelaide Oval holds happy personal memories for Lara. His 182 in the 2000-01 series, which did end in a 5-0 drubbing, and his 154 in a one-day international against Pakistan last January was batting of exception quality. It is only four months since he reeled off four hundreds in five Tests against South Africa and Pakistan in the Caribbean, so notices of his demise appearing under several different bylines here in the past few weeks could well be proved premature in the coming days.
Shane Warne, Test cricket's highest wicket-taker and his long-time and fierce rival, is not among those writing Lara off just yet. "Lara has got at least one big innings in him somewhere and he hasn't had that quite yet, so hopefully it's the Test match after this one," Warne said yesterday. "To me he is probably the most destructive player in my 15 years in cricket that I've played against. He looked good in the second innings in Hobart. He looked a lot more settled, he wasn't moving as much and he looked in ominous form. Hopefully for us it's not the game where he makes a big one."
West Indian spirits, clearly low following their disappointing performances, have been boosted by the record seventh-wicket partnership of 182 in the Hobart Test between their two youngest, rawest players, Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin. They were, or should have been, an example to their senior team-mates who have faltered so repeatedly in recent times and again in this series. For all the sentimentality, the differences between the teams have been so great that even the draw the West Indies seek to stave off another Australian sweep looms as improbable, if not impossible.
The statistics are staggering. The West Indies have been dismissed for 210, 129, 149 and 334, the last oeing entirely to the stand between Bravo and Ramdin. Australia's totals have been 435, 283 for 2 declared, 404 and 78 for 1. Bravo has been the only West Indian to score a hundred. Australia have had five from three different players, two each from Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden, and one from Michael Hussey.
The evidence for another Australian victory gets even more persuasive. While the home team are boosted by the return of Justin Langer, their established left-handed opener, the West Indies are without their equivalent, Gayle. Langer, who has over 7000 runs in 94 Tests, was eliminated from the first two Tests with a cracked rib. He takes the place of Michael Clarke, the dashing young batsman whose middle place is now occupied by a prolific over-30, Brad Hodge. Wavell Hinds, who has not had a hand on the tour because of a left little finger cracked in the first match, comes in for Gayle. Dwayne Smith, described by Ramnaresh Sarwan, the vice-captain, at an official dinner last night as "as good as Bravo", gets his first Test in 14 months in place of Marlon Samuels who has returned home with the knee injury sustained in the field in the Hobart Test.