New teams seek proof of progress
March April 7-11, Kensington Oval
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT)
When these sides last met, in Australia in 2009, they played out a series of drama, tension and bracing cricket - if the usual home hiding of an under-prepared opponent at the Gabba is taken out of the equation. At the centre of it all was Chris Gayle, then West Indies captain and the Man of the Series after a considered 165 in Adelaide was followed by the most blistering century in Perth. It is a neat summation of the changes wrought in both sides since that Gayle is no longer there, replaced as captain by the effervescent Darren Sammy, while Ricky Ponting has ceded his leadership to the extremely capable hands of Michael Clarke.
Neither Australia or West Indies were destined for great things beyond their 2009 meeting, the hosts going on to be humbled during the next Ashes series, while the visitors spluttered through what has become a long-running cycle of defeats and political recriminations. Those results hastened the aforementioned changes in leadership, and also fostered new support staff and stronger cultures in each side. Australia's performance has improved markedly since the day the Argus review into team performance was handed down, while under Sammy and the coach Ottis Gibson, West Indies are developing a side that may soon be capable of sustained presence.
In Bridgetown they will stare each other down on a surface that will only have a modicum of the pace traditionally on offer. It will be a matter of whether Australia's adjustment to foreign climes can provide enough of a window for a home side that has talent but is still developing the perseverance and consistency required to last five days. The top three batsmen on both sides will be sternly examined by sturdy bowling attacks: Ed Cowan, David Warner and Shane Watson seeking to establish themselves in much the same manner as Adrian Barath, Kraigg Brathwaite and Kirk Edwards.
Australian eyes are also on the world rankings, as a strong series victory here will push them closer to the top of the ICC table, having dipped as low as fifth following the Ashes. West Indies by contrast are chasing history, a first Test win over Australia in nine years, a first series win in 19. The consistency and professionalism sought by both sides will either gather strength and vitality at Kensington Oval, or be cowed by a sobering reminder that there is still plenty of work to be done.
Form guide(Most recent first)
West Indies DLLWD
In the spotlight
Darren Bravo's velvety strokeplay made him the talk of India and much of world cricket late in 2011, derived as it was from the example of his batting forebear Brian Lara. However those innings receded into the distance during the ODI and Twenty20 series against Australia, in which Bravo did not pass 25 in six innings before being dropped for the final T20. Returning to regional cricket, he made only 13 and 7 for Trinidad & Tobago against Barbados, and looked scratchy in the nets at Bridgetown. Much of West Indies' hope for the series rests on the ability of this young batsman to assert himself, and he must find the confidence within to do so against well-drilled opponents.
Shane Watson begins the third phase of his Test career as a No. 3 batsman, having previously played in the middle order then found some success as an opener. Since he was cut down by hamstring and calf injuries at the outset of the home summer, Watson has been usurped at the top of the order by David Warner and Ed Cowan, leaving him to replace Shaun Marsh at one down following the West Australian's dire India series. How Watson's shrewd bowling fits back into a bowling attack that operated happily enough with only four practitioners at home will be a source of fascination, as will his contribution to the guidance and leadership of Clarke's team.
Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach are duelling for the final pace bowling spot in what is expected to be a four-man bowling attack. Roach made his name with fiery spells to Ricky Ponting in the two teams' last series in Australia in 2009, while in 2008 Edwards claimed eight wickets for the match against Ponting's team in Bridgetown. The recalled Narsingh Deonarine replaces an IPL-tied Marlon Samuels at No. 6.
West Indies (possible) 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Kirk Edwards, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Narsingh Deonarine, 7 Carlton Baugh (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Ravi Rampaul, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Devendra Bishoo.
A race between Ryan Harris and James Pattinson for the third pace bowler's berth is the only major question for the Australian selectors on tour. Both bowled well in the warm-up against the WICB President's XI, Pattinson having a little less cricket behind him following a buttock strain. Watson returns for his first Test since South Africa last November, while Matthew Wade will debut.
Australia (possible) 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Ryan Harris/James Pattinson, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditions
There is little grass on the wicket unveiled for the first Test, and its appearance is similar to that used for the second Twenty20 match. Kensington pitches always offer the promise of some pace and bounce, but as it deteriorates there should be useful spin for Devendra Bishoo, Nathan Lyon and their part-time counterparts.
Stats and trivia
- West Indies' last Test victory over Australia was the record chase of 418 to beat Steve Waugh's side in the fourth Test of the 2003 series in Antigua.
- Only three members of the Australia squad - Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey - have played Tests in the Caribbean before.
- West Indies have won four and Australia three of the 10 Tests the two teams have played at Kensington Oval, the last draw taking place in 1973.
Quotes"In India, where teams don't go there and win, we went out and played and dominated India in two out of three Test matches. Over the last 12 months the team has shown signs of improvement and they've been fighting. We've just got to continue that. We have a group that believes they don't only compete but they could win games."
"No doubt we can take some confidence out of beating India 4-0 in Australia. The expectation, particularly in Australia, is to win in your own backyard and it was really nice that we could do that during the summer. But the hardest part of playing international sport is beating teams away from home in conditions you're not as used to … different environment, different temperature, different culture, completely different cricket wickets."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here