Tournament review

Australia v West Indies, 2009-10

John Townsend

Test matches (3): Australia 2, West Indies 0

Chris Gayle is Man of the Match and Player of the Series, Australia v West Indies, 3rd Test, Perth, December 20, 2009
Chris Gayle was the best player in the series, but Australia took the bigger spoils © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: West Indies tour of Australia

A series that started with a whimper of West Indian woes ended with the alleged basket-case of world cricket getting within 36 runs of squaring the three-Test rubber against an Australian team whose behaviour deteriorated the more they were placed under pressure.

In a month of contradictions, supposed Test cricket sceptic Chris Gayle proved the five-day format's brightest star, with centuries as contrasting as they were substantial and a rare capacity to inspire his troops to become greater than their collective parts. But for ill-conceived strokes from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo at the WACA on the second-last day of the series, West Indies might even have earned a share of the FrankWorrell Trophy after being set the stiff challenge of chasing down 359 to win.

South Africa made 414 to triumph at the same ground a year earlier andWest Indies, without several key players, nearly pulled off a similarly remarkable victory. Instead Doug Bollinger, briefly eschewing his self-proclaimed "loud and obnoxious" tag, and grabbing his opportunity in the absence of injured first- choice bowlers Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, collected the final scalp - and eight in the match - to give Australia the series 2-0, and start their climb towards regaining the No. 1 position in the ICC rankings.

The result flattered Australia, who dominated the early going in the series when their opponents were reeling from a limited and disrupted preparation, were run over in the middle stages, and came back in stuttering bursts at the end. And it took a questionable decision from third umpire Asad Rauf, already a contentious figure for overruling Mark Benson at Adelaide with what he himself described as "common sense" and a "gut feeling" rather than any technological clarification, to get the home team over the line.

West Indies had not won a Test in Australia since February 1997, suffering nine straight defeats along the way, and it looked like a third consecutive series clean sweep after they lost by an innings in three days at the Gabba. But Gayle found something within himself and his ragtag collection of veterans, novices, recalled discards and journeymen that offers considerable optimism to those many people who believe a strong and vibrant West Indies team is essential for the well-being of world cricket.

Kemar Roach was just 21 at the start of the series, but bowled with extreme pace and hostility from a short and muscular action that harried Australia's best batsman Ricky Ponting to the point of distraction. Roach dismissed him three times in five innings, crushed his elbow tendon with a brutal delivery at Perth, and generally asked questions of Ponting that he has not been required to answer for some considerable time.

Opening batsman Adrian Barath shared Roach's diminutive stature and was two years younger, but hardly lacked impact by comparison. He produced a century on debut, the ninth teenager to do so, and his enforced absence from the final match was to prove costly for the visitors. It may come as some surprise to critics of a West Indian cricket system often considered beyond repair and populated by slothful opportunists that Barath's hamstring tear came from his eagerness to do extra training sessions between Tests. His attitude surely offers hope for the future.

Just as Australia did in the Ashes series, West Indies scored more runs and hundreds than their opponents, but were not able to win the crucial points at which momentum changed and victories were inspired. The West Indians collected four centuries - including Gayle's monolithic unbeaten 165 at Adelaide and his 70-ball blitzkrieg at the WACA - while eight Australians reached half-centuries, none of whom could go on to three figures. Only England, with 16 in five Tests against West Indies in 1963, managed more fifties in a series without a century than the 15 produced by this Australian combination.

There were no officially expressed concerns from the Australian camp about the stopped starts, just regular homilies about the positives that attach to having so many batsmen in outstanding form. The opening pair both had moments of heartache: Simon Katich fell for 99 for the second time in his career, while the ever-improving Shane Watson was skittled attempting to heave the boundary that would have brought up his maiden century.

That lack of discipline continued as the series proceeded, with Bollinger reprimanded in Adelaide and three Australians found guilty of disciplinary breaches in the final Test at Perth, where the provocative West Indies spinner Sulieman Benn was banned for two one-day internationals after a heated and ugly altercation with Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson.West Indies were not alone in being mystified that their player was suspended while the Australians received minor fines, but it was not the only issue that promoted significantly more speculation than clarity. The new umpire referral system left plenty shaking their heads - including Ponting several times in Adelaide - while Mark Benson abandoned that Test to fly home, pleading illness, after Asad Rauf overruled his seemingly correct on-field decision.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Queensland v West Indians at Brisbane, Nov 18-21, 2009
Report | Scorecard

1st Test: Australia v West Indies at Brisbane, Nov 26-28, 2009
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: Australia v West Indies at Adelaide, Dec 4-8, 2009
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: Australia v West Indies at Perth, Dec 16-20, 2009
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Prime Minister's XI v West Indians at Canberra, Feb 4, 2010

1st ODI: Australia v West Indies at Melbourne, Feb 7, 2010

2nd ODI: Australia v West Indies at Adelaide, Feb 9, 2010

3rd ODI: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Feb 12, 2010

4th ODI: Australia v West Indies at Brisbane, Feb 14, 2010

5th ODI: Australia v West Indies at Melbourne, Feb 19, 2010

1st T20I: Australia v West Indies at Hobart, Feb 21, 2010

2nd T20I: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Feb 23, 2010

© John Wisden & Co.