Series Review

Australia v West Indies, 2005-06

Peter English

The West Indian squad had what might have been a nice mix of experienced batting and youthful energy to face opponents who were also regrouping and rebuilding. But, despite both sides trying out new combinations and introducing fresh faces, the result was similar to the previous tour in 2000-01, with Australia winning all the Tests, by the comfortable margins of 379 runs, nine and seven wickets.

The series was cut from five matches to three because of diminishing interest following the 5-0 result five years previously, and the change produced accusations of disrespect from West Indies supporters. But when Australia began with a four-day thrashing at Brisbane, and had their opponents seemingly heading for an innings defeat at Hobart, there were worries that even three fixtures were too many. However, the young Trinidadians, Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, pushed the game into a fifth day with a 182-run partnership.

Their team-mates caught the mood, and the Third Test was the most competitive of the series, made even more memorable as Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest run-scorer. Until his 226, Lara had stumbled through two months in Australia - during the Super Series experiment and the first two Tests, in which he received a couple of poor decisions (the West Indian board complained to the ICC after the series about the standard of the umpiring, and gained an admission that "errors were made"). But at the Adelaide Oval, a ground he happily called the most beautiful in the world, Lara shrugged off his 36 years and all the miseries of West Indian cricket, to unveil a performance few geniuses would have bothered with. For 405 minutes his free-spirited strokeplay wrestled with gritty determination to produce a memorable and courageous performance.

Lara began needing 214 to pass Allan Border's old mark, and he waited until 11.22 a.m. on a cool second morning to shuffle across his stumps and work Glenn McGrath to fine leg for his 11,175th Test run. Border was watching his son's Under-10 match in Brisbane at the time and missed the moment, but he felt that Lara was a worthy successor: "I would rank him as one of the best three batsmen in the world. I have had the pleasure of seeing him play a lot of cricket and there is no doubt he is a genuine genius."

It was an appropriate baton-change, as Border's grittiness had inspired Lara ever since he watched him grind out undefeated innings of 98 and 100 at Port-of-Spain in 1983-84, against Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Wayne Daniel. "As a West Indian I wanted him to get out, but I admired his fighting spirit and it was a tremendous effort," recalled Lara after claiming the record. "He was an icon for me, and his spirit was in me from the first day I played Test cricket. Thank you, AB."

As happened against England 19 months earlier, Lara's feat ensured that the West Indians ended the series in an upbeat mood, despite the results. The tour had also begun in a buoyant mood as Bennett King, the coach, returned to his home state of Queensland for the First Test. The squad - back to full strength after the messy sponsorship/contracts dispute was finally resolved - had an average age of 26, the strike bowlers were young, fast and keen, and the batting was propped up by Lara and the captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

They were the only two tourists over 30, but both had experienced demoralising losses to the Australians... and there were more on the way. Chanderpaul struggled, scoring only 87 runs in the series at 14.50, and his leadership also came under heavy pressure, especially when his bowlers struggled for consistency, although they improved as a unit as the series wore on. Injuries to key men were also a hindrance: Marlon Samuels, who sustained a knee problem at Hobart, and Chris Gayle, who needed surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat, were both out of the squad by the final Test.

Still, West Indies could look forward to the development of Bravo, a 22-year-old all-rounder who backed up his 113 in the Second Test with six for 84 and a half-century in the Third, and the capable new wicketkeeperbatsman Ramdin, only 20, who scored 171 runs at 34.20 and out-performed Adam Gilchrist, whose 52 runs came at 17.33. "The young guys did a terrific job and it was a big lift for us," said Chanderpaul. "I hope they don't relax too much."

The Australian selection panel was jittery, still trying to cope with the Ashes defeat even while the side merrily moved along as if it had never happened. A clear-out that started in England, with the axing of Michael Kasprowicz and Jason Gillespie, claimed Damien Martyn for the victory over the World XI in October, and by the third West Indies Test the Ashes middle order of Martyn, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich had all gone. Nonetheless, the team for Adelaide worryingly included only one player under 30 - Brett Lee, who was 29.

What the new additions lost in youthful vigour they made up for in desire created by seasons on the sidelines waiting for an opening. Michael Hussey earned his maiden Test cap 11 years after his firstclass debut when his state team-mate Justin Langer fractured a rib in a domestic limited-overs game, and he put an edgy debut behind him with centuries in consecutive matches to finish the series with a Bradmanesque average of 120.33, which was slightly worse than his one-day mark of 123.50 at the same time. Brad Hodge made a bright entrance with 60 at Hobart, but the return of Andrew Symonds was disappointing after he stepped in for the injured all-rounder Shane Watson. However, Symonds's lack of input was easily covered by the team's veteran core, while Lee won his battle to merge fire with a more consistent line and length to claim 18 wickets at 20.94.

The recovery of Matthew Hayden, after he was on the verge of being dropped in England, was remarkable: he peeled off centuries in the opening two matches, giving him hundreds in four successive Tests. He narrowly missed a fifth, ending with 87 not out, 445 runs and the series award. Ricky Ponting made twin centuries at Brisbane, McGrath gave away runs as reluctantly as a child parts with sweets, and Shane Warne felt so confident that he reintroduced his flipper and wrong'uns.

Rare instability in the selection process was comfortably masked against opponents far inferior to England, but Ponting did not feel the ease of the series win was a concern. "If complacency crept into this team after what a lot of the guys have been through in the last few months, I'd be very disappointed," he said. The Australian side might have undergone significant changes, but the heavy-handed results remained the same, and they retained their record of not losing a home series since 1992-93 - the summer when Lara first reached for the stars, with his superlative 277 at Sydney.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Queensland v West Indians at Brisbane, Oct 27-30, 2005

1st Test: Australia v West Indies at Brisbane, Nov 3-6, 2005
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Victoria v West Indians at Melbourne, Nov 11-13, 2005

Tour Match: Victoria v West Indians at Melbourne, Nov 13, 2005

2nd Test: Australia v West Indies at Hobart, Nov 17-21, 2005
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: Australia v West Indies at Adelaide, Nov 25-29, 2005
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Prime Minister's XI v West Indians at Canberra, Dec 2, 2005

© John Wisden & Co.