West Indies set up thrilling finale
West Indies will need the best fourth-innings chase at Sabina Park after Andrew Symonds rescued Australia from their worst opening to a Test innings in 72 years to set the home side 287 for a final-day victory. When bad light stopped play West Indies had made a solid start in their challenging task, reaching 46 for 1 with Devon Smith on 19 and Ramnaresh Sarwan on 8.
Australia wanted more than one early breakthrough but it took all of Stuart Clark's efforts to finally remove Brenton Parchment for 15. Clark peppered the stumps and Parchment's technique of walking across and trying to work almost everything to leg had him rapped on the pads for three excruciatingly close lbw shouts. Clark had his revenge when he moved one away from Parchment, who edged behind to leave West Indies at 22 for 1.
The match was following a remarkably similar path to the memorable Barbados Test of 1999, when Australia posted 400-plus batting first, West Indies trailed by more than 100 and Australia struggled in the second innings and gave the home team a target of 308. Ricky Ponting and Stuart MacGill were members of the side that watched as Brian Lara guided his men with a brilliant century and they will be cheering the fact he is not here this time.
Lara was also one of the stars of the highest successful chase at Sabina Park, when he and Sarwan both finished in the 80s as West Indies reached their goal of 212 against Sri Lanka in 2003. Sarwan will be a key figure again, but he will wish his bowlers had capitalised further after Australia slumped to a barely believable 18 for 5 when the nightwatchman Mitchell Johnson edged behind in the first over of the day.
Without Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke it was reasonable to assume Australia's batting would be weaker, but nobody expected their worst start to a Test innings since 1936. Only three previous times had Australia been five wickets down with fewer than 20 runs on the board: in 1888 at Old Trafford, in 1896 at The Oval and in 1936 at the Gabba. On that occasion Bill Voce and Gubby Allen had Don Bradman's men at 16 for 5, and they eventually capitulated for 58 in the 13th over. This time a 52-run partnership from Symonds and Brad Hodge prevented a catastrophically low total.
Hodge appeared unfazed by the scoreline and played some confident pulls and cover-drives to reach 27 before he became the first of Dwayne Bravo's four victims by prodding at an excellent leg cutter. Still, Australia had steadied slightly and only two losses in the first session was an improvement on their four wickets within nine overs on the third afternoon.
After lunch Symonds decided the best way to keep surviving was to force West Indies into a more defensive mindset, and he launched three sixes off Amit Jaggernauth's offspin in the first three overs of the second session. Symonds' footwork was deft and he advanced nimbly to drive Jaggernauth over long-on twice and clipped him for another six to midwicket, stripping West Indies of any momentum they had retained.
It was enough of a statement from Symonds, who was then content to settle back into an easier pace and patiently waited for opportunities to drive over-pitched balls or cut when he was offered width. He built an invaluable 74-run partnership with Brad Haddin, who was scratchy but, importantly, survived for a large chunk of the session. The stand ended with a brilliant catch at short cover by Runako Morton, who plucked a violent cover-drive above his head from the bat of Haddin, who had 23.
Brett Lee faced a short-pitched barrage and discovered how Shivnarine Chanderpaul might have felt on the third day, copping a bouncer to the helmet off Fidel Edwards. Unlike Chanderpaul, Lee was immediately up and batted on, although Edwards had the final say when Lee under-edged him behind for 9.
That was the start of a late flurry of wickets as Symonds decided on all-out attack and was caught top edging an attempted pull off Bravo that was somehow caught by Darren Sammy, who crashed with Daren Powell as they converged at mid-off and each tried to claim the chance. It became three wickets in six balls when MacGill threw the bat and was caught to end Australia's innings at 167.
An imposing total it was not, but thanks to Ponting's first-day century Australia had enough of a buffer to make West Indies' task a challenging one. They might have no Lara but as Chanderpaul proved on the third day, West Indies are still capable of putting up a serious fight.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo