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April 5, 2012
Seductive as it may be in these parts, it can take as little as an hour to tumble towards Test match defeat.
Australian visits to the Caribbean are littered with matches in which the visitors' cause was ruined in a day, or less. Allan Border's 1991 tourists rumbled West Indies for 149 to begin the pivotal fourth Test in Bridgetown, then watched aghast as they in turn were routed for 134, handing the match and the series to Viv Richards' ageing team.
Four years later and Australia's otherwise triumphant 2-1 win was sullied by a second innings capitulation for 105 on the most poisonous of Port of Spain pitches. Then in 1999 Steve Waugh's first series as captain was punctuated by two unfathomable turnarounds in Kingston and Bridgetown, as a previously dormant home side sprang to Brian Lara-inspired life.
The latest captain to lead Australia to the region, Michael Clarke, is well aware of these lessons of history, via the memories of older heads including Ricky Ponting (a tourist in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2008) the bowling coach Craig McDermott (1991 and briefly in 1995) and Justin Langer (1995, 1999 and 2003).
As he prepared to command his side against a West Indies team that has shown plentiful signs of rejuvenation under the captain/coach axis of Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson, Clarke emphasised the importance of every hour, every session and every day over the next three weeks. He does not want his men to be lulled, even momentarily, into the often lackadaisical rhythms of Caribbean life.
"The most important thing I think about touring the West Indies is one bad hour can cost you a Test match," Clarke said. "You need to be at your best for all five days to have any chance of winning the Test. Against a very talented opposition, you can't afford to give good players too many chances, and too many opportunities in the game to run away with it.
"That's going to be our main focus to make sure we are switched on throughout the whole five days, starting Saturday, and we believe that'll put us in a good position to win the Test series. Building consistency is our goal as a team and I said throughout the summer we played some really good cricket in patches, and some cricket against New Zealand and South Africa that we'd rather forget. So as a team we're trying to become a little more consistent, and this is going to be a tough test for us but will give a good indication of where we're at with the consistency."
The West Indian team has always had Clarke's respect for its level of ability and athleticism. What he is now about to discover is whether or not Sammy and Gibson have added enough steel and unity to make that talent and athleticism work cohesively for five days. Sammy said the team had built up its character over the past year, and he was eager to put it to the test.
"It's not only me. The coach has a goal for the team," Sammy said. "The fact we can go out on the field and look like a unit and have that never-say-die attitude, as you saw in the one-day series we've been under 100 for 5 a few games and still posted over 200 - that's been the most important thing. The coach has stressed professionalism and you can see the team is improving.
"For me as captain to get the guys to gel well, play together and go out there and execute the team plan because the more we think team the more results we will get. I've played since 2004 and I always try to get along with everybody. It's just my character but it's not just me. The guys have made a conscious effort to fight for the West Indies, I won't take credit for that.
"It's just everybody making a conscious effort. We know what the fans expect. Even though we lose but if we lose fighting ... in the transition period we have not won for a long time and everybody's just making that effort to go out there and represent the region well."
To that end, Sammy implored his batsmen to produce enough runs for an increasingly accomplished bowling attack to defend. Darren Bravo and Kirk Edwards are two young men facing Australia for the first time in Tests, but their captain's expectations are clear.
"Our batting has to play very crucial role in this series," Sammy said. "The last Test match we played, in India, we scored over 500 runs. The batting has shown that they are capable of scoring runs, but it's very important that the top six get the bulk of the runs - Kirk, Bravo, Shiv [Chanderpaul] and the two young openers. Last year Kirk got a hundred, Bravo got three. We do hope that come Saturday he digs in and finds a way to score, but it's going to take a team effort to pile on the runs against the Aussies."
Otherwise it may be the hosts feeling the sting of one disastrous hour.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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