Before this Test, the West Indies captain Jason Holder spoke of his desire to see improvement from his developing side. We need to build and keep building, he said. But you can't do so without foundations, and Holder noted that first West Indies had to lay down a performance that would allow them to build. They lost the Melbourne Test by 177 runs, but they might just have set down the groundwork that Holder was seeking.
Certainly they finished the match with more belief than they demonstrated over the first two days. They could hardly have started in a more dispiriting fashion. They couldn't buy an Australian wicket, nor could they sell a West Indian one at a high enough price. At stumps on the second day, West Indies were 6 for 91 in response to Australia's 3 for 551 declared. Another three-day Test to follow their Hobart debacle seemed likely.
But then something happened. Darren Bravo dug in and batted for six hours, debutant Carlos Brathwaite gave him support, and they avoided the follow-on by working Australia's bowlers too hard for Steven Smith to enforce it. Their spirits had lifted. Bravo had shown what was possible, and that mindset spread throughout the team. Remarkably, they went within a hair's breadth of taking the match into a fifth day.
Set 460 for victory, they scored more than half of their runs before they lost more than half of their wickets. Their first century partnership of the series came from captain Holder and his predecessor Denesh Ramdin. At 5 for 250, and with Holder connecting some lusty blows, you started to wonder not only if the match would go to five days, but if West Indies could give Australia an unexpected scare.
But the loss of Ramdin shortly before the second new ball led to a late string of wickets that ended the Test at 6.01pm on the fourth day. Still, that they even reached the second new ball was a good sign. For the first time since May 2012, West Indies had reached the 80-over mark in both innings of an overseas Test. Holder's men had fought, and fought hard.
Rajendra Chandrika, the much-maligned opening batsman who had fallen for three ducks in his first four Test innings, soaked up 130 balls and frustrated the Australians with his defence. Every one of the specialist batsmen got a start, though none could go on with it. But still, it was something on which they can build for the Sydney Test. In Hobart they had lasted only 106.3 overs against Australia's bowlers; here they survived 189 in total.
And yet, they lost by 177 runs and Australia retained the Frank Worrell Trophy. Too much ground had been conceded on the first two days, especially in taking only three Australian wickets in 135 overs. Four of the five Australian batsmen who were used in the first innings made centuries, and that after Holder had won the toss and sent them in. But now that his batsmen have shown some grit, he might bat first in Sydney if he gets the chance.
"Proud of the way the guys showed some fight in this game," Holder said. "Still disappointed that we didn't put up a better fight. But credit to the way the guys played, especially Darren Bravo in the first innings and Denesh Ramdin in the second innings... It's disappointing [to lose], but I thought we showed a lot of improvement from the first Test match."
Still, you have to wonder what the West Indies bowlers can do over the next few days. Australia's attack has bowled West Indies out four times already in this series; West Indies have taken just 10 wickets in total. Their bowling was expected to be their stronger suit coming into this series, but their senior men have struggled, especially Kemar Roach, who has series figures of 0 for 218 and has leaked nearly a run a ball.
Roach gave up 15 runs in his first over of the Melbourne Test, which prompted Holder to immediately take him out of the attack and pick up the bowling himself. Roach has looked a shadow of his former self and it would be hard to justify playing him in Sydney, where either the legspinner Devendra Bishoo, whose shoulder injury was not as bad as first thought, or the uncapped fast man Miguel Cummins must come into consideration.
"We've just got to look at how we bowl," Holder said. "We didn't come up to the mark again. We didn't control the game the way we would like. The bowlers were going at a fair bit still in this game, so it's just a situation where our bowlers really need to take stock of what they're doing and understand a little bit more the situations of the game.
"Although the pitches have been very good for batting, we still have to find ways to contain. We've been allowing them to score both sides of the wicket, and we haven't been able to contain them and control the game thus far, having them run away at certain stages of the game. That's one area we really need to tighten up on."
Still, at least West Indies have given themselves a foundation. Now to build on it in Sydney.