Fiery West Indies trouble Australia
West Indies' fast bowlers made use of a quick and bouncy Barbados pitch but another counterattacking half-century from Andrew Symonds ensured the match was relatively evenly poised when rain forced an early finish to the first day. Australia reached 226 for 7, with Beau Casson on 6 and Brett Lee on 7, after an eventful morning tussle as both teams aimed to out-gun each other with aggression. A fitting finale to a tightly-fought series is looming.
Four wickets fell before lunch as Dwayne Bravo and Jerome Taylor made the most of some early swing but, unusually for the first session of a Test, Australia hammered four sixes in trying to belt West Indies into submission. Perhaps lured by a surface with genuine speed, following the slow pitches in Jamaica and Antigua, Australia's batsmen over-exerted themselves having been sent in by Chris Gayle.
Only through an 87-run stand between Symonds and Brad Haddin did the visitors recover. There were echoes of the first Test in Kingston, where the pair contributed a 74-run partnership following some top-order shakes. Adding to the similarities was the way Symonds dominated an inexperienced spinner. In Jamaica Amit Jaggernauth was handled with contempt and on this occasion Symonds enjoyed punishing the second-gamer Sulieman Benn.
Symonds cut Benn's first delivery hard and wide of slip for four before lofting a drive over mid-off for another boundary in the same over. His best shot was when he casually came forward and lifted Benn over long-on for six with seemingly no effort, and Gayle could see West Indies' hard work slipping away once more. But an uppish drive straight into the hands of cover ended Symonds' stay on 52 and gave a third wicket to Bravo, who nipped the ball around and was the most threatening.
It was sweet justice for Bravo, who should have had Symonds on 7 and on 14. A slash outside off stump flew to Xavier Marshall, who put down a gettable chance at second slip, before Symonds was again blessed by the umpiring gods. For the second time in the series he gloved behind down the leg side - this time more clearly than in Antigua - but was reprieved by the umpire Mark Benson. Australia should have been 133 for 6; instead Symonds made use of the good fortune and targeted Benn.
But it was not too dispiriting a day for Benn, as he had Haddin (32) lbw attempting an expansive slog-sweep. Haddin had made the most promising start in his brief Test career, generally resisting his natural urge to hit over the top and instead moving the score along with sublime drives. A straight four that missed the stumps by a few inches was impressive but he was even better when he lunged at a wide Daren Powell half-volley and crunched a perfectly timed cover-drive to the boundary.
At that stage the Symonds-Haddin partnership was proving a major frustration to Gayle, whose decision to field was paying off when West Indies removed Simon Katich soon after lunch to have Australia at 111 for 5. Katich, who had been the calmest of Australia's top-order batsmen, fell victim to the extra bounce when he tried to pull Fidel Edwards and a top edge flew over the cordon, eventually clutched superbly by Gayle running back with the flight from first slip. West Indies were pleased the extra carry was paying off, although Taylor and Edwards also conceded 20 wides as four balls rocketed off the pitch and sailed over Denesh Ramdin's head to the boundary.
More important, however, were the wickets that the fast men created. Phil Jaques had made a confident start, including a vicious cut for six behind point, when he too top edged an attempted pull that rose quicker than he anticipated. Ramdin ran back towards fine leg to snare the difficult, swirling chance, but Australia could not be convinced to restrain their aggression. Ricky Ponting had just hooked Powell for two consecutive sixes when in the next over Taylor tied him up, trapping him dead in front as he tried to clip through the leg side.
Still the wrestle for control did not die down. Hussey pulled a punishing boundary through midwicket and hooked a six off Bravo before falling as he attempted another six to fine leg. The ball looked like it might sail over the boundary but Powell, running towards the rope, judged the catch perfectly and halted his forward momentum just in time to pull him up. Things only got better for West Indies when Bravo drew Clarke forward with a perfect leg cutter that was edged behind, leaving Australia in trouble at 96 for 4.
Despite their recovery of sorts, they ended the day with some concerns, although Lee will certainly enjoy bowling on the lively pitch after Edwards tested him with some short stuff just before the rain, which halted play nearly 90 minutes early. Australia have failed to win only one of their past 15 Test series - the 2005 Ashes - and a victory to West Indies would consign this contest to a 1-1 draw and confirm the shrinking gap between Australia and the eight other Test nations. Gayle's team has four days to do the rest of the world a huge favour.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo