WI v Australia, 1st Test, Bridgetown, 5th day April 11, 2012

Courage and fear in the gloaming

The Barbados Test demonstrated the lesson that some Test match victories cannot be obtained without first risking defeat

In the Kensington Oval gloaming, familiar to all who had been here for the unhappy conclusion to the 2007 World Cup final, Australia's cricketers gave themselves a far more edifying memory of victory in Barbados. In doing so they also gave the world a stirring reminder of Test cricket's capacity for the wondrous. The heroes in the dying light were Michael Hussey, Matthew Wade, Ryan Harris and Ben Hilfenhaus, all scrounging out priceless runs as the target of 192 was reached in 47 overs. The theoretical final hour had not yet begun, but given the retreat of the sun behind the Greenidge and Haynes Stand, there would scarcely have been time for another six balls.

The man who deserved as much credit for the result, and the way it was so enterprisingly pursued, was the captain Michael Clarke. It was he who on the third evening refused to concede a win was beyond his team's grasp even as they limped to 248 for five, still well short of the hosts' studiously compiled first innings. And it was Clarke who declared behind shortly before tea on day four, after his tail had responded grandly to the goal of scraping to within 50 runs of the West Indies total. At tea on the final day, after an inert afternoon session, Clarke briefed his men on how the target would be chased. Given what followed, his words cannot have been a million miles from those famously exchanged between Don Bradman and Richie Benaud at the final break in the 1960 tied Test in Brisbane.

The visitors chased the game boldly, even ravenously, on resumption. Shane Watson hammered boundaries and a six, Ricky Ponting reverse swept, and even the obdurate Ed Cowan roused himself from two hours of afternoon torpor to pull his first delivery in the evening session to the square leg fence. Hussey's innings in particular was a masterpiece in miniature, resembling his contribution to a similarly adventurous Ashes win over England at Adelaide Oval in 2006, or his blazing innings to win a World Twenty20 semi-final over Pakistan in St Lucia in 2010. His play told of a desire, and a belief, that outstrips most Test match opponents. Arguably, nowhere in the world is the yearning to perform for one's country stronger than Australia, even as Twenty20's marketeers chase its best players with evermore corporate cash.

It also demonstrated the lesson that some Test match victories cannot be obtained without first risking defeat. Courage is required to act on that realisation. More than ten years and the entire span of Allan Border's captaincy passed before the modern Australia team learned that properly. In Bridgetown, Michael Clarke's team showed Darren Sammy's West Indies the rich rewards that can be obtained by taking that very risk.

Sammy and the coach Ottis Gibson are in a similar place to that occupied by Border and Bob Simpson in the mid-1980s. They are trying to reinvigorate and educate a team that has seemingly become all too de-sensitised to defeat, and have introduced young players with the hope of steeling them for future battles. Basic lessons are being learned, though global Twenty20 competitions are stripping the team of capable players just as the South African rebel tours hamstrung Border.

But pragmatism outstripped their opportunism by such a wide margin on the final day, characterised by defensive fields and flagrant time wasting. There was an apparent reluctance to believe, even when Narsingh Deonarine's burst of four wickets had given them a window to Australia's tail, that the hosts could win it themselves. They fiddled over field settings designed largely to contain, dithered over drinks and complained repeatedly about the footmarks, though the umpires Tony Hill and Ian Gould had the good sense not to indulge their delaying tactics, nor to spend too much time pondering over the light as the result crept near. Gibson's plan for this team is clear, but it will be a welcome day when Sammy has the confidence in his players to lead them with more flair than forbearance over five days.

Test cricket, of course, needs days like this: when the IPL fades into triviality and the competing football codes into routine. Crowds and television viewers cannot fail to watch matches this compelling, with a backdrop like Barbados offering all the comforts of warmth, sun and no little history. By chasing victory so admirably, Australia chased a wider audience for their game, and a richer place for themselves in the story of its continued survival.

As Harris and Hilfenhaus scampered the winning run, the Australian balcony rose to cheer them, and the players embraced in a spontaneous moment of relief and jubilation. They have beaten better sides under Clarke, and won other games in difficult circumstances. This, though, was a performance in which a growing sense of belief was given the chance to burgeon further and become sustained, so that few of Clarke's XI will fear defeat the next time they set out in search of victory. They have come a long way since Clarke became captain, and there is still plenty to improve upon - seven catches went down to provide a salient reminder. But the confidence of the team is now at a level where the nations above them can start to be worried. The word unshakeable comes to mind.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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  • Roo on April 14, 2012, 2:23 GMT

    @mikey76... If you have come onto an Oz/WI article just to sledge, then you have missed your mark by a long way.... SA is now the world no.1 team (on series countback)... Oz beat SL at their home with a series win... Eng lost their last series in the WI's against this "supposedly" weak WI team & got bowled out for 51 against average spin... Oz has 1 top 10 (world rankings) batsman as does Eng & Oz 2 top 10 bowlers - not bad for "your" average players... This doesn't mean that I think Oz is any more than a top 5 team atm but we are improving... Also putting down the WI's as a weak team isn't helping England fans image & the WI's are touring their soon - it may come back to bite you...

  • Nathan on April 13, 2012, 14:04 GMT

    @mikey76 - it's all just just a matter of opinion, but in mine, Aus probably lose the next Ashes in a close contest (and the english carry on like winning a home series is a massive achievement, such is the chip on their shoulder when it comes to Australia's dominance over them the two decades past), but from then on your time is up. And ... umm ... I think Aus fans have slightly a bit bit more than Adelaide 06 to live off when it comes to Ashes series in my lifetime of following cricket. I totally agree Cowan is not looking up to it, although criticism of his 'go slow' knock last test shows some people dont understand test cricket. Agree the Aus batting is a worry but I get the feeling we won't need too many massive scores with the attack that is developing. Cummins is the most exciting prospect since Philander lol. And my contempt for swann has nothing to do with Warne, more to do with seeing swann bowl in Aus conditions and realising he's not up to it

  • Parthasarathy on April 13, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    @Parikshit Kulkarni, Felt similar, but I watched from 7 - 11 pm only.

  • Andrew on April 13, 2012, 11:31 GMT

    @mikey76 - Cowan IMO is better suited to playing in England than in the WIndies. He'll do a lot better of their than what you would imagine. As for the Swann comment - where has anybody bagged him? Rooboys comment was in response to borderline trolling by presumably a Pom. No jealousy of Swann from what I've seen - although I would look fwd to Oz articles more if Swanny was an Ozzy, the interviews would be hilarious.

  • michael on April 13, 2012, 8:23 GMT

    @Rooboy. Just like the aussies are living off Adelaide 06 because they know they aint gonna win an ashes series in a while. And trying to big up Lyon the groundsman is hilarious. If he has 182 wickets from 41 tests (if he plays that many) then I'll eat my cricket box! Your refusal to acknowledge Swann's class because of petty jealousy now that Warne has retired is pretty sad. Have you stopped to consider who is going to replace Ponting & Hussey in the next couple of years? Because the players you've tried out haven't exactly looked the part. And then there is Cowan who looks sub-standard. Coming to England is going to be a lot harder than touring the caribbean.

  • Dummy4 on April 13, 2012, 6:47 GMT

    @Parikshit Kulkarni

    Great post, mate. Good on ya!!

  • Andrew on April 13, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    On a side note - how hard was it to look up "gloaming"!!!! I assumed it meant something like gloom or darkness, wasn't too far wrong it would make a great title for a novel I want to write about vampires!

  • Nathan on April 13, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    @RednWhiteArmy - so england drew a series against a SL side that Aus dominated just a few months ago? Without rain Aus win that series at least 2-0, certainly didn't look like losing a test as eng did. And do you think Aus will drop 7 catches in a test again any time soon? They created the chances to win this in easier fashion and when all you've got is bagging a team that WON for not winning convincingly enough, well, you ain't got much. Normal Aus-Eng service will be resumed soon, maybe not next Ashes but shortly thereafter, and then all you'll have is your few months at number 1. A bit like how the english fans lived off '81 etc all through the late '80s, all the 90's, and early 2000's. I can understand why you're talking it up while you still can. @HRman - the 'step and fetch' spin of Lyon has resulted in him having a better average than 'the best current spinner in the world' (lol) at the same time in his career.

  • Dummy4 on April 13, 2012, 1:19 GMT

    You don't have to pan IPL to exemply test cricket. Both forms can coexist. You must watch the CSK match of yday!

  • Dummy4 on April 13, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    @Giovaughn Wilson: I'm sorry but complaining about the umpiring does seem like sour grapes to me. There is no need for such comments when WI have been putting up a great fight in tests for the last few months. The umpiring in this match was exceptional 100% right. For me, it was obvious that both Clarke and Wade had bat involved because you could see the ball deviating and the seam changing direction. Surely not straightforward without HotSpot but I certainly believe the right decisions were made. Wade would have been very aggrieved if that had been given out!

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