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