Upbeat West Indies continue to fight
Xavier Marshall's exciting 85 gave West Indies reason to cheer but Australia shook off some uncharacteristic fielding fumbles to take themselves within seven wickets of victory and a 2-0 series win in Barbados. At stumps on the fourth day West Indies had not given up hope of a record chase, but their target of 475 was still a long way off, and they were 235 for 3 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul on 27 and Dwayne Bravo on 30.
With Sewnarine Chattergoon almost certain not to bat after arriving at the ground on crutches following his third-day ankle injury, West Indies were effectively four down. They were fortunate not be in a bigger hole after a fiery late spell from Brett Lee and they need something magic from Chanderpaul and his team-mates as they search for another 240 runs to level the series.
When Beau Casson celebrated his first Test wicket by removing Marshall, who had batted well for a first-class career-best, Australia were feeling the relief after they had let West Indies build up to a vaguely threatening 181 for 2. Casson's extra bounce and turn enticed a thin edge on to Marshall's hip and it flew to the right of the diving short leg Phil Jaques, who snared the tough low chance in his non-preferred right hand.
It was ironic that Jaques, one of Australia's less accomplished fielders, made such an important and eye-catching breakthrough after several more reliable men had a string of chances that stuck like discount masking tape. Casson himself had been in two minds at mid-on when Chris Gayle drove a Lee half-volley straight to him and the messy attempt was a far cry from his flying take in the same spot in the first innings.
Gayle could also have been run out on 20 had Lee hit the stumps from mid-on with Gayle halfway down the pitch, but more costly were the two lives offered to Marshall. Simon Katich's horror run in the cordon continued - he put down two at first slip in the first innings - when, despite being demoted to third slip, he grassed a straightforward edge off Marshall on 1 to frustrate the bowler Lee. Brad Haddin then gave Stuart Clark a headache when Marshall, on 22, edged a superb legcutter that Haddin dropped moving to his right.
Marshall immediately set about making Australia pay, attacking at every opportunity as he seemed intent on taking the draw out of the equation. Despite being struck on the helmet for the third time in the match, Marshall was strong on the front foot and a series of sublime cover-drives and off-drives against the fast men had the Kensington Oval crowd in raptures.
He occasionally had to be reminded by his more senior partners to bide his time, but there were definite signs of the potential West Indies' selectors had seen in him. Remarkably for a Test opener, Marshall does not have a first-class century to his name and until Casson's breakthrough he looked destined to remedy that at the highest level against the world's No. 1 team.
While Casson gradually improved, finding more turn than in the first innings but with a few bad balls thrown in, it was Michael Clarke's surprisingly reliable spin that broke a promising 95-run stand between Marshall and Ramnaresh Sarwan. Much as Sulieman Benn had earlier in the day, Clarke curved his left-arm orthodox spin into the right-handers from around the wicket and Sarwan played the wrong line to one that went straight on and was lbw for 43. His innings had taken only 56 deliveries and his sensible strokeplay was a good counter to the more unpredictable efforts of Marshall.
But if Marshall was a little too impulsive at times, the captain Gayle was downright reckless. He flayed the bat at a wide ball from Clark that flew high in the air over point and landed just out of reach of Symonds running back, and he eventually swivelled an ungainly pull into the hands of Lee at mid-on to give Clark his first wicket.
Importantly, Australia had given themselves five sessions to dismiss West Indies on a pitch that, while still offering some bounce, was becoming easier to bat on. Clarke and Haddin guided Australia through a subdued morning as they gradually built up the total with West Indies, by the end of the first session, making no attempt at dismissing them and simply waiting for Ponting's declaration.
His decision came at lunch with the score on 439 for 5, denying both men the chance to score half-centuries, with Clarke unbeaten on 48 and Haddin on 45. The first session went largely as expected, although a pair of wickets for Sulieman Benn was just reward after he bowled a marathon spell that had started midway through the third afternoon. Benn always looked dangerous, several ripping spinners beating the bat of the right-handers, and he finished with 3 for 154 from 47 overs. He had Katich caught driving on the up to cover for 157 and Symonds went in similar fashion for 2.
But by that stage the lead was already approaching 400 and the only bowling that was going to matter was that of Australia. By the close of play they had one day to remove six of Chanderpaul's colleagues - or by some fluke the man himself - in order to take a 2-0 series victory. Chanderpaul had three sessions to orchestrate the biggest upset since West Indies chased a world-record 418 against Australia at St John's in 2003.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo