West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test, Roseau, 3rd day April 25, 2012

Two exceptions prove the rule

If any two of Australia's squad could be said to have offered the least to the team's progress in the Caribbean, it was Ed Cowan and Ricky Ponting. Until the third day in Dominica

One by one, day by day, all of Australia's cricketers have contributed something of value to this series. Batsmen and bowlers, tyros and senior pros, whether in form or out of it, every chosen player has offered at least one performance of worth.

The individual efforts of Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Michael Hussey, Nathan Lyon and Matthew Wade have shone brightest, but they have had supporting interludes from the rest. David Warner has provided runs and as notably, wickets. The captain Michael Clarke has led the team artfully and caught soundly while also contributing several handy scores. Even the likes of James Pattinson contributed critical runs in Trinidad, while Michael Beer bowled tidily at Queen's Park Oval. His replacement Mitchell Starc made pesky lower order runs then claimed the enormously valuable wicket of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The sturdy, if not storming, performance of the whole has been sufficiently fuelled by the sum of its bit-part players.

If any two members of the touring party could be said to have offered the least to the team's progress in the Caribbean, it was Ed Cowan and Ricky Ponting. But on the third day in Dominica, it was their turn to put a partnership together, and in doing so stretch the match beyond West Indies' last, despairing efforts to drag it back into home hands. There was little that was thrilling or even memorable about the way that Cowan and Ponting built Australia's second innings lead at Windsor Park. Yet it was significant that their efforts meant that all members of the touring party will now be entitled to return home with the thought that they had contributed meaningfully to the team's success, in a series that has proved to be more keenly fought than many impartial observers had expected.

Cowan began his day by providing something less tangible than runs, in the form of an address to the Australian team about Anzac Day, as they huddled near the boundary to commemorate those their nation has lost in war. As befits a diarist, columnist and avid reader, Cowan's words were well chosen and thoughtful, underlining the literate contribution he is making to the culture of the team's dressing room. He delivered them while nursing a tender wrist, struck while he fielded at short leg during West Indies' first innings. Cowan has also made himself decidedly useful at short leg, following an assortment of specialists in the position including David Boon, Justin Langer and in more recent years Simon Katich - five catches for the series have Cowan second only to keeper Wade.

Of course moving orations and smart catches do not make an opening batsman. Cowan's struggles for major scores in this series have left the question open as to whether or not he will make it in Test cricket via the avenue by which he must perform, as a top-order batsman blunting the new ball and going on to hefty totals. In Trinidad he admitted to struggles in adapting his Australia-centric game to the slower, lower surfaces of the West Indies, and in the first innings at Windsor Park a lapse in judgement had him lbw to Ravi Rampaul for a disconsolate single. A sore wrist had Cowan icing up in his hotel room at the end of the second day, knowing a substantial score was needed to shore up his place, but more importantly ensure Australia would build a lead to shut the hosts out of the Test.

In his search for these runs he would be soon accompanied by Ponting, after Warner and Shane Watson were both out cheaply. Ponting has looked in better touch during this series than Cowan, but through a conspiracy of poor luck, poor pitches and some fine bowling by Kemar Roach he had only once previously passed 23 - 41 in the second innings in Port-of-Spain. Together they battled away against a West Indian bowling attack that refused to flag under a hot sun, though the fielders seemed a little less capable of stopping everything that skimmed in their vicinity, several boundaries beating dives less sprightly than they had been earlier in the series.

They had plenty of good fortune. Cowan might have been run out immediately before lunch after haring down the pitch in search of a non-existent run after Watson pushed a delivery to midwicket, and grope outside off stump numerous times as Shane Shillingford gained appreciable turn. Ponting was a skerrick of inside edge away from falling lbw to another Shillingford offbreak, and later pushed Narsingh Deonarine's first ball firmly to short leg, who could not clasp a most testing chance. Critically these moments did not affect the focus of the batsmen, who continued on their blue-collar task of building the lead until it had advanced to 278.

Both Cowan and Ponting would fall by the close, the former cutting at Deonarine and offering a sharp catch to Darren Sammy at slip, the latter leaving his bat above water when ducking Roach's bouncer and offering a periscope catch. Their scores, 55 and 57, will doubtless feel like opportunities missed, and will be unlikely to change the minds of those who think that either Ponting is ripe for retirement or that Cowan's station is as a trophy-winning opening batsman for his state rather than his country.

But in forming a stand on a surface that is growing ever more challenging, on a day that called for grafting over galloping, Cowan and Ponting added important runs to an ensemble effort that has blocked the West Indies at every turn. In assessing how the Australian batsmen in particular have fared in the Caribbean, it is worth noting that of the top seven only Ponting, with 146, has failed to reach 150 runs for the series. Among the hosts, only the endlessly adhesive Chanderpaul has passed that mark. While West Indies have shown much improved purpose under Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson, they are still a long way behind the collective will of the visitors. The sense of team that is growing in the Australian dressing room will only be bolstered by the fact that all have now added vitally in the Caribbean.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on April 28, 2012, 15:39 GMT

    @Meety and @zenboomerang...the point is simple. If players publicly excuse mediocrity,they must have done so privately first.They must have the blessing of their team,their coach and CA. They wouldn't dare do so otherwise.It is indicative of the sub-standard principles of that group and the promotion and acceptance of mediocrity.Its only been in practice since Hilditch and Sutherland took over.It is specious to reason that because the pre 2006 side were champions that they didnt need to excuse their performance. It was BECAUSE they didnt do it ever,that they succeeded.It was Ponting who identified that players needed to ave over 50 at state level for long periods before being selected,when he debuted.The dilution of standards is behind this malaise.Shifting the deck chairs at CA,removing the power of state boards and failing to adequately promote traditional cricket while throwing everything into 20/20,hardly constitutes an in principle shift. Accountability is as absent as ever.

  • Roo on April 28, 2012, 9:17 GMT

    @hyclass... Agree with much you say & people bringing up our boom decade are completely missing the point... Except for the mid-80's, Oz has always had a reasonable batting squad & sometimes v.g. batters... Leaving out the Indian series, our top-middle order have regularly had collapses over the last 5 years with a lone batsman standing up & the bowlers having to do the batsmans job... Still, I wouldn't single out CA policies as they have gone through a major shake-up in the last 6 months with many changes implemented & will take 2-3 years to see what they are achieving - unless you mean previous policy & selection panels?...

  • Andrew on April 26, 2012, 23:48 GMT

    @hyclass - been a while. Whilst I have in the past agreed with most of what you say, (& argued fairly what I didn't agree with), I'd like to point out, that the playing group up to 2006, contained some of the all time greats. So I think it would be fair to say - there HAD to be a higher standard expected. Anyways, I'd be interested to know (genuinely)what your starting XI would of been for this test series?

  • Sadiq on April 26, 2012, 18:27 GMT

    West Indies need to clean out it's politics and get top players back in the game. The present three top batsmen failed to click so many times that one wonders how they were selected and that too as batsmen number 1, 2, 3. It's ridiculous that tail enders bat better than the top 3. All the good work done by bowlers have been undone by batsmen with the only exception of Chanderpaul. Surely the great Windies can body of at least 2-3 other reliable batsmen who would click. For one thing the great Chris Gayle must be brought back in the team and then I am sure there are a couple of other batsmen who will perform better than the present top trio. if they really can't find more test barsment than it might be better to play Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russel. Between the three of them they can add more runs than the present failed trio. It is sad to see WestIndies lose 2 nil to the Aussies at home ground. Sadiq Ahmef

  • chris on April 26, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    Boy oh boy have any of you even watched this series, Aus have played well and would be 2 nil up if not for rain, They are well in front in this test. You play to the conditions, scoring rate is fine and plenty of time to win this match. I don't know any team in the world or even past that could score at 4 an over on these wickets.

  • Christopher on April 26, 2012, 13:49 GMT

    Another article that has cropped up in the last few years advocating mediocrity. This team is mediocre. The idea that its ok to perform poorly because of long term personal records, foreign pitches, or the possibility that someone else might do something on the day is the message that it sends. Its called Test cricket for a reason. Its supposed to represent the best playing the best. No-one viewing this could perceive that fact. It would never have happened during the period leading up to 2006, when a different administration and group of players would not have tolerated it. The in principle excusing of sub standard thinking equals similar outcomes and has no place in the national set-up. Long before the absurd India series in Australia, I blogged here that India had neither the bowlers,batting form or history to support them winning anything in Australia.They were resoundingly thrashed in England.They were a spent force,not a validation of this Australian side or any CA policies.

  • G on April 26, 2012, 13:16 GMT

    I can't believe Cowan's excuses. The guy even lumps himself in with Ponting's 13000+ runs as protection for low scoring and in his case very slow scoring. We have to look further for an opener and can't settle for this. I have been watching the game not reading the scoreboard when i wake up and was stunned to see how he could just not hit the ball when we were chasing runs in first test. He was himself frustrated with his inability to make contact. Holding was right when he said you don't need fieldsmen when Cowan is batting. Where Ponting was left stranded by Watson and got another one that ran along the deck, what is Ed's excuse ? Lets give Khawaja's silky skills another go....

  • Roo on April 26, 2012, 11:46 GMT

    @trumpoz... Please look at the records - Ponting, Clarke, Hussey have all played Test cricket in West Indies before this series :) ... If they aren't the strength of our team, who are?... I also think its rubbish that the lower order have easier conditions - often it is the opposite with the game in the balance with runs needed to get on top of the opposition... Maybe some over enthusism from the bowlers being the main problem for Oz, but thats about it...

  • richard on April 26, 2012, 9:39 GMT

    @zenboomerang - the pitches are definately not at fault - pitches are pitches and there are very few that really should be criticised. The batsmens inability to adjust to foreign conditions is what causes this (coupled with good WI bowling). ODI's are a completely different game and mindset - and Ponting (I think) was the only member of the top 6 to have played test cricket in WI before this. The bowlers making runs makes sense.... they don't have the pressure on them that the batsmen do, the opposition slightly slacken off and they make runs. It can happen to all teams, even the great Aus teams of the Waugh/McGrath/Warne era were guilty of it. It shows a lack of ability to play out each innings/game by the WI team which has ultimately cost them the series. It is one of the big differences between the lower and higher ranking sides.

  • Rajaram on April 26, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    Excellent article.The Australian Team is now a well -oiled machine wherein EVERYONE contributes.

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