Clark wobbles Windies on tricky pitch
If there were any doubts how important Ricky Ponting's first-day 158 was to this match, they evaporated on the second day as batsmen from both sides struggled and Stuart Clark and Fidel Edwards thrived on the unpredictable pitch. Only Andrew Symonds, who made an unbeaten and entertaining 70, looked like mastering the up-and-down surface and by the close West Indies were wishing they had not given the visitors such a head-start.
Clark's three wickets late in the day left West Indies at 115 for 3 at stumps with Shivnarine Chanderpaul on 25 and Runako Morton on 23. Their 47-run partnership was important in steadying West Indies, who need a further 117 to avoid the follow-on after Symonds pushed Australia to 431. In a way the home side was lucky; Clark was the only one of Australia's bowlers to find his rhythm and the scorecard could have been more worrying for West Indies had Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart MacGill fired.
Instead Lee was unusually out of step, figuratively and literally as he sent down six no-balls including three in one over, although a couple of his deliveries that stayed low caused major concerns for the batsmen. Johnson shared the new ball with Lee and was wayward, spraying across the right-handers and failing to find any swing, while MacGill spun the ball prodigiously but dropped too short too often. It was not until Clark's strikes that West Indies' top order began to battle.
They had started confidently, in particular Devon Smith, who was searching for his first Test half-century in 17 innings. He looked ready to break the drought that began at the Gabba in November 2005, rattling along to 32 with some vicious square cuts off Johnson. But Clark's nagging line troubled Smith and he was bowled off his pad, sparking a mini-collapse as they lost 3 for 21 in seven overs.
Ramnaresh Sarwan became Brad Haddin's first Test victim when Clark surprised the batsman with extra bounce and Sarwan's attempted cut turned into a top edge that Haddin grasped at head height. Haddin added another when Brenton Parchment, softened up by a Clark ball that jagged back sharply and hit him in the groin, wafted at the next delivery, which pitched in the same spot but moved away.
Whereas Clark's consistency was the problem for West Indies, earlier in the day it was Fidel Edwards' speed and swing that troubled several Australians. Edwards sparked a rejuvenated West Indies - their bowlers were confident, their fielders were brilliant - with 5 for 104 that ended Australia's hopes of a 500-plus total. But things had already slipped away from the home side through Ponting's first-day efforts and West Indies slipped further due to some late slogs from Symonds.
By the time he had the comically inept MacGill at the other end, Symonds decided one-day mode was the only option and he brought up his half-century with a brutal bottom-hand aerial drive to long on, where the ball burst through the hands of Sarwan on the rope and over for six. He picked up 16 off that Darren Sammy over, and later deposited Edwards for six more wide of long on. Edwards finally removed MacGill's middle stump to end the frustration of a 32-run last wicket stand and bring him his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests.
It was a well-deserved result for Edwards, who was far and away the most threatening bowler in the absence of the injured Jerome Taylor. Edwards should also have had a key victim earlier in the day when Symonds somehow survived an lbw shout on 18 from the first delivery after lunch. Russell Tiffin had worked himself into the habit of saying "not out" - albeit correctly - through the first four sessions and he finally got one wrong when Edwards found late swing that struck Symonds in line.
When Edwards did get a reward from Tiffin it was in unusual fashion as Lee ducked what should have been a steepling bouncer, but it stayed so low it struck him on the thigh as he took evasive action. Although Lee was upset at getting out for 4 the thought of bowling on such a surface must have pleased him.
The worrying wear on the pitch prompted Tiffin to give Edwards two warnings for running down the middle during the first session but the cautions proved a bonus for the bowler. He came wider of the crease to fix the problem and the angle in, combined with some extra bounce, cramped Brad Hodge (67) as he tried to cut square and a thick edge from high on the bat flew to the diving Denesh Ramdin.
It was one of a series of magnificent efforts from West Indies in the field; bodies were repeatedly thrown around athletically to save runs and Dwayne Bravo completed his second screamer of the match when he hurled himself to his right at mid on to remove Clark. A more straightforward chance for Ramdin ended Haddin's first Test innings when he tried to pull and tickled a catch through off Sammy when the ball failed to rise as much as the batsman expected.
Even at that early stage, just before lunch, the pitch was a threat and as it wears on it could become a minefield. Enthusiasm in the field is one thing, but it will take remarkable resolve from Chanderpaul or one of his colleagues for West Indies to escape their predicament.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo