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June 14, 2008
Simon Katich and Phil Jaques both made centuries on a day of total Australian dominance in Barbados, where the match slipped right out of West Indies' grasp as Australia built a lead of 365 by stumps. At the close Australia were 330 for 3 and Katich was unbeaten on 148 having batted throughout the day, with Michael Clarke yet to score, and the only concern for Ricky Ponting was likely to be deciding when to declare on day four to give his bowlers the best shot at a 2-0 series win.
It was an unexpected development in a game that for two days was tighter than Shane Watson's hamstring. Both teams had made use of a lively Bridgetown pitch and 20 wickets fell on the first two days, but as the surface calmed down West Indies could only manage three breakthroughs on the third, none of which gave them any real momentum following the Jaques and Katich show.
Their 223-run stand was the highest opening partnership for Australia in Tests since Hussey and Matthew Hayden combined for 231 against the same opposition in Hobart in November 2005. While it might have given the selectors confidence that there will be life after Hayden, it has also handed them a conundrum as they decide whether Katich can squeeze into the side when they tour India later this year, when Hayden should be fit again.
Katich would be mighty unlucky to be dropped. His effort in Barbados was not only his highest Test score but it gave him centuries in consecutive matches after he made 113 in Antigua. He scored plenty of runs through the leg side as he walked a long way across his stumps and clipped into the big gaps that Chris Gayle had helpfully left, and his driving through the off side was clean and well-judged.
At one point his concentration appeared to be waning - he had about 70 and Jaques was beginning to score quickly - and following a couple of forced attempts to pierce the field he refocused and was again his usual calm self. His century came up with an ungainly hook that slammed straight into the ground but the method did not bother Katich, who had his milestone from 216 deliveries.
The West Indies fast men assisted him by sending down plenty of half-volleys that allowed Katich to drive and the tone of the day had been set in the first over when he took Daren Powell for ten, including two superb drives through cover and mid-off. Until a late-in-the day drop from Dwayne Bravo at leg slip when Katich already had 145, he did not give Gayle's men a chance. Impressively, neither did Jaques.
Scratchy for the first part of the morning, Jaques gradually found his rhythm and enjoyed the lack of bite in the pitch, pulling forward of midwicket for four from a Fidel Edwards bouncer that on day one would have been a helmet-rattler. He cut hard when given width - as he often was - and brought up his third Test century with a cover-driven boundary when he got to the pitch against Sulieman Benn. His hundred, which came from 196 deliveries, was his first Test century outside Australia and his first without Hayden as his opening partner.
Occasionally Jaques went aerial and a lofted drive over long-on for four off Benn was particularly good. It was a terribly tough day at the office for the spinners, who got some turn but could not find their length. Gayle did not help by setting men back on the boundary and allowing easy runs - a move that clearly frustrated the animated Benn - and at no stage did significant pressure build on Katich and Jaques.
A breakthrough finally came when Jaques, on 108, flashed outside off against Edwards and got a thick edge behind. For a brief moment there was some energy in the West Indies camp. But Ponting clipped a boundary off his pads from his first delivery and the spark vanished from the hosts as quickly as it had appeared.
Ponting kept Australia in their dominant mood by smacking Gayle back over his head for six and he worked his way to 39 before pulling Powell to midwicket, where the substitute fielder Runako Morton took a cracking catch low down. That was followed by a leg-slip take off Benn that removed Hussey shortly before stumps - just reward after he toiled hard sending down 35 overs - but they were rare moments of joy for West Indies on a day where virtually nothing went right.
If the pile of runs from Jaques and Katich was not enough to demoralise the team, the likely loss of one of their openers before the second innings should have done the trick. Sewnarine Chattergoon badly wrenched his left ankle when he tried to slide and stop a boundary, the joint skewing under the weight of his body, and he was taken to hospital in an ambulance. It was an awful sight for West Indies fans and it symbolised their horrible three sessions of cricket.
They had started the day trailing by 70 but with the knowledge that if they could break into Australia's middle order quickly they might have a gettable target on their hands. They ended the afternoon with a massive deficit, several of the Australian middle order still padded up and, perhaps depressingly for them, two full days remaining. A series that had surprised with its close contests was rapidly heading into more familiar territory.
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