Brilliant Clark gets Australia home
Stuart Clark produced arguably his best day of bowling in an already first-rate Test career to give Australia a 95-run victory, which was a flattering result after they spent most of the match locked in a tight battle with West Indies. Clark was almost unplayable on the final day and finished with a career-best 5 for 32 that masked some concerns for Australia, who were shaky in the field and struggled to find decent back-up for Clark and Brett Lee.
Fortunately for Ricky Ponting's men, West Indies, who are ranked No. 8 among Test nations, slipped back into their familiar ways as they threw away wickets and the chance to really push the No. 1 team. Only a 67-run seventh-wicket partnership from Denesh Ramdin and Darren Sammy sparked any real concern in the Australian camp, and after that stand was broken the tail fizzled away with little resistance.
The end came with a pair of wickets to Stuart MacGill - two of his best balls from a disappointing match - which was just as well as Lee and Clark were both tiring after a day of carrying the full weight of Australia's expectations. Clark was still required to end the stay of Sammy, who was lbw to a ball that seamed in, for 35, before the last few wickets fell.
Both teams had a genuine shot at victory when the morning began. West Indies needed another 241 runs and Australia required nine wickets to avoid losing the opening Test of a series for the first time since they visited Sri Lanka in 1999. Within an hour Clark and Lee had restored their team's confidence and by lunch West Indies were six down and the match appeared all but over.
It was inspiring stuff from Clark and Lee, who started the day sharing the ball and bowled unchanged for 110 minutes on a hot Kingtson morning, sending down ten straight overs each before Ponting finally gave them some assistance. Clark in particular was outstanding, stifling the batsmen with a remarkably consistent line while swinging and seaming the ball in both directions.
He removed West Indies' top three for the second time in the match and proved once again that raw speed is no longer the only useful weapon on Caribbean pitches. He was helped by a disappointing approach from the West Indies batsmen, who had all day to reach their goal and needed to be patient. Clark's nagging accuracy frustrated some of the batsmen - notably the captain and vice-captain - into poor shots that brought their dismissals.
Ramnaresh Sarwan was being beaten by leg cutters and couldn't find his rhythm, and he tried to force runs through the leg side when he got a straight half-volley. The ball spooned up off his leading edge and Andrew Symonds at cover jumped and knocked the ball down with his right hand - most men would not have reached it - and completed the chance on the second grab.
Dwayne Bravo also succumbed to a glaringly obvious plan as he was tied down for 11 balls without scoring before he too got a straighter one that he felt he could drive through the leg side. But Australia had stationed a man at a very short mid-on, next to the pitch, for several overs and Bravo struck it straight into the fielder Mitchell Johnson's hands.
In between those breakthroughs, Clark removed Devon Smith with a peach of an inswinger that pitched in line, straightened and struck Smith on the back pad when he inexplicably offered no shot. It was an awful piece of judgment and Smith, restored to the opening position due to injuries to Chris Gayle and Sewnarine Chattergoon, will be hoping he can settle back down at No. 6 for the second Test.
At the other end Lee was quick, straight, and completed his most consistent spell of the match. He picked up Runako Morton, who was lbw to a ball that angled in and struck him in line with off stump, and the first-innings hero Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who strangely prodded a nothing shot back to Lee to be caught and bowled for 11.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for Australia. Both Simon Katich at slip and the debutant wicketkeeper Brad Haddin put down regulation chances on the final day. More of a problem was that when Clark and Lee were having a well-earned lengthy break, Johnson and MacGill posed little threat and allowed Sammy and Ramdin to build a partnership. At least Johnson sometimes beat the bat and produced a couple of venomous balls that bounced sharply.
MacGill, on the other hand, was a long way below his best. Full tosses and long hops abounded and he looked worryingly like he did during the series against Sri Lanka in November, before he had wrist surgery to deal with his carpal-tunnel syndrome. Nobody would have been more relieved than MacGill when he ended the Ramdin-Sammy resistance by collecting the ball at mid-on and with a surprisingly quick flick struck the stumps at the bowler's end to have Ramdin short.
While there were enough positives to cover Australia's weaknesses, West Indies would be deeply disappointed to have come so close to challenging the world's best team only to fall back into their old habits. Despite passages of brilliance through the Test - notably Fidel Edwards' bowling and Chanderpaul's 118 - they were unable to maintain the intensity for five days.
It will be even harder in Antigua, where they will take on a stronger Australia side that will welcome back Michael Clarke and potentially Matthew Hayden. The second Test is only four days away and West Indies must shake off their inconsistent ways to pose a genuine threat to Ponting's men.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo