A slide foretold
Bridgetown's events were foretold a week early. Australia's eight-wicket victory over the WICB President's XI in their tour match ahead of the first Test offered a tale of fitness, focus and persistence. Having limped past the local team's 201 at the Three Ws Oval, Michael Clarke's team rattled through the batting a second time around in the space of 33 overs for a measly 98.
Though the opposition was weak and the pitch poor, the Australians demonstrated the value of unrelenting efforts against opponents given to lapses in fortitude, gathering strength over the match from an indifferent start. As the sometime West Indies allrounder Dwayne Smith observed: "They're some good bowlers, they're smart, and they're strong too, but it is up to us to hang in there. We saw in our second innings where they came back a lot stronger, so those guys are seasoned players and they're all up for it and they're professionals too, so I think we need to match them."
For almost seven sessions, the West Indian team led by Darren Sammy did match Australia, grinding to a substantial first innings then putting the tourists on the rack when the time came for their reply. But Clarke's team has not won seven of 11 Test matches without rebounding from tight positions as well as gathering strength from strong ones, and his men knew the hosts are still prone to bouts of third innings apoplexy. So it was that Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon unpicked Sammy's lock with the bat, then Ben Hilfenhaus barged through a door left ajar by his fellow bowlers' priceless tail-end stand of 77.
By the close West Indies, for all their development under Sammy and the coach Ottis Gibson, seemed only a marginally improved version of the invitational team Australia had brushed aside in the warm-up. They appeared destined to retrace the steps of the costly first Test against India in Delhi last year, among others, when a fighting performance was undone by flagging efforts against the subcontinental tail, allowing R Ashwin to make a century, the follow-on to be averted, and the West Indian second innings rounded up for all of 134. A strong platform for victory had became the trapdoor to defeat, and the Feroz Shah Kotla had to be in West Indian minds as the fourth day developed at Kensington Oval.
This all provided a reminder that Australia's Test match pedigree is far in advance of West Indies. It also demonstrated that Caribbean cricket remains afflicted by the kinds of lapses that will continue to keep the region in the unhappy gap between the mediocre and the dire until they are eradicated, by Sammy, Gibson, their players and the board. Clarke's declaration when still 43 runs behind was an exemplar of his gift for timing and tactical awareness. Yet the path by which Australia gained control of the match was a humble one, characterised less by brilliance than diligence and effort. They are qualities that can be made, not born. Gibson's men should take note.
At 285 for 8, Australia had no specialist batsmen left, a deficit of 164, and plenty of time for West Indies to establish a substantial lead and then put them back in on what would be a deteriorating pitch. Home thoughts had to be drifting towards batting again, and the appropriate pace at which to look for runs after the two first innings had rolled along at less than three runs per over. Harris, Hilfenhaus and Lyon, however, combined with batting of good sense and application. Playing strokes both bold and deft, though never daft, they dragged Australia's innings beyond 300, then 350, and finally 400, progress broken only when lunch was taken half an hour late after Harris and Lyon had seen out the obligatory extra overs as the last pair.
Harris' innings was belated proof that the strongly built fast man is also capable of playing intelligent and valuable Test match innings. Always possessing a sound technique, a lack of confidence and early jitters have generally conspired against Harris. To this point his greatest Test batting exploit was probably to be see the umpire's finger raised four times to dismiss him for a pair during the 2010 Adelaide Ashes Test - Harris having reviewed both decisions. But his defence is compact, his attacking shots powerful, and his eye sure.
Lyon and Hilfenhaus have fewer pretensions to bat "properly" in Tests, but both make the very most of what they have. Hilfenhaus hits hard and often, in a simple, muscular style befitting a former bricklayer, while Lyon shows his desperate desire to succeed for his country by watching each ball closer than most batsmen. Neither man had enjoyed a fruitful first innings with the ball, but they made up for it with their batting against an opposition that grew increasingly despondent as the overs and hours ticked by. Lyon and Harris notched their best scores in Tests, and could not have done so at a better time.
Granted three of five overs before tea in which to have an impact by Clarke, Hilfenhaus then showed he had learned from the ways of the hosts when they had bowled to Australia's batsmen. Too short and mechanical in the first innings, Hilfenhaus varied his line and his length with greater thought in the second, and was quickly rewarded. Offered a full delivery shaping away, Adrian Barath aimed a drive but lost his leg stump as the pitch grabbed the new seam ever so slightly for some movement from off to leg. Kraigg Brathwaite, having fought so admirably in the first innings, offered a swish that suggested the moment was too much for him and edged behind, then Kirk Edwards shuffled too far across and was lbw. Hilfenhaus' successes reflected nothing so much as the bowling of Sammy on day three, when he had used every trick in the fast medium bowler's bag.
Another gambit, that of bowling around the wicket, was used by Harris to dispose of the eternally pesky Shivnarine Chanderpaul, before Peter Siddle's persistence delivered the other critical wicket of Darren Bravo. Like many of his team-mates, Bravo had felt the sickening sensation of sinking in Delhi, and had seen the WICB President's XI capsize a week ago. Though reggae, rap and soul are the musical genres of choice in the Caribbean, and pop tunes have permeated Kensington Oval this week, the tune in West Indian heads at the ground might easily have been the amped up blues of Led Zeppelin, via Howlin' Wolf - How Many More Times?
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here