Error follows error for West Indies
The debilitating effect of five sessions in the field - under a roasting sun, on an unsympathetic pitch and against opponents with the ruthless streak common to all sporting champions - finally took its toll on West Indies in the hour before tea yesterday. An exhibition of sparkling, nerveless, uninhibited strokeplay from Xavier Marshall, their latest opening batsman, quickly lifted spirits again after the fast bowlers, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, had blasted 65 from 55 balls to allow an Australian declaration at 479 for 7 at tea.
But just as quickly and depressingly, the pendulum swung again. Michael Clarke, who had earlier defied them with the second hundred of Australia's innings, was summoned by captain Ricky Ponting to send down his seemingly unthreatening left-arm spin as Marshall and captain Ramnaresh Sarwan became entrenched.
Marshall, whose 53 was a virtual shot-a-ball display, was lbw to one of the few he chose to leave alone. Runako Morton replaced him with the end of the day no more than half-hour away, only to slog his fifth ball from Clarke straight into midwicket's lap, a near repetition of his dismissal in the first innings of the first Test.
It is rashness such as Morton's - and Devon Smith's slap to point earlier - that has condemned West Indies for so long to their lowly position among their peers on the ICC Test rankings. It completely undermined the effect of Marshall's uplifting attack. His selection in the final eleven was as unexpected as a shooting star landing in the middle of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Yet, in spite of his limited credentials (first-class average 25 and no hundred yet to his name), the selectors saw star quality in the young Jamaican, just as the previous coach Bennett King had done when he introduced him into international cricket on the 2005 tour of Australia. Others, among them your correspondent, saw only statistics.
Marshall provided an immediate remedy to the lingering despair in the dressing room and around the ground with a succession of peerless cover-drives. None was more electrifying than one with knee bent and a full flow of the bat. His dismissal was a clear lapse in concentration, not unusual for a batsman with little experience of batting as long at first-class level but it was a heartening reintroduction to the Test team, especially given the circumstances.
Until the Lee-Johnson association, West Indies had stuck stoically to their exacting task, just as they had done on the first day. They restricted Australian batting, keen to press on, to 155 from 45 overs, an unusually pedestrian rate by their standards, when Clarke's classy innings of 110 was finally ended. All of a sudden, error followed error as tired limbs and minds were exposed. Fidel Edwards, running back from mid-on, muffed a skyer when Lee was 36 and Dwayne Bravo, the safest of fielders, floored another when Johnson was 15. Each time the untiring Darren Sammy was the luckless bowler.
As Ricky Ponting signified the previous afternoon, Australia's aim was to build quickly on their solid overnight base of 259 for three against a hard, new ball that would come more readily off the bat than one progressively softened by the concrete-like surface. If the loss of Simon Katich, whose 113 was the rock on which the foundation of the innings was built, was an immediate setback, it seemed of no significance to Clarke.
The elegant right-hander showed the previous afternoon that his late arrival on compassionate leave had done nothing to diminish his class. Two crisp boundaries through mid-wicket in Edwards' first over with the new ball got him going again. A succession of scintillating off and cover drives followed. Even after the dangerous Andrew Symonds was the second wicket claimed to a leg-side deflection and more so when Denesh Ramdin just failed to grasp his third leg-side catch when Clarke was 63, a deluge seemed certain.
The first hour yielded 62 but the West Indies bowlers, lacking variety but not heart, would have none of it, even as Brad Haddin strived to execute Ponting's advertised game plan and Clarke advanced past his hundred. The second hour to lunch brought only 38, the first of the second session 31. Australia, it seemed, would have to wait longer than they would have wished to get at the West Indies batsmen. Then things fell apart.