Casson and Clark seal series win
Beau Casson fought off some harsh treatment from Dwayne Bravo to help Australia grind their way to an 87-run win in Barbados to secure a 2-0 series victory. The visitors' success was not without some tense moments after Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul threatened a record fourth-innings chase, but important breakthroughs to Casson and Stuart Clark exposed West Indies' tail and Australia wrapped up the triumph 20 minutes before tea when Daren Powell flashed a catch behind off Brett Lee.
Much like the first Test in Jamaica, Ricky Ponting's blood pressure was rising as West Indies happily pursued a challenging but vaguely gettable target. They started the day needing 240 more runs to make the highest successful Test chase in history, 475, and the explosive 122-run stand between Bravo and Chanderpaul gave them hope. Bravo hammered Casson with the sort of contempt that could have irreparably dented the confidence of the debutant spinner but, to his credit, Casson stayed on task and made the most vital strike of the match.
Bravo had reached his first half-century of the series and sent the Kensington Oval crowd into raptures with three powerful sixes over extra cover when Casson tossed up half-volleys outside off. Phil Jaques might well have laughed when Ponting asked him to move in to silly mid-off following the aggressive display, but Jaques did as asked and Bravo obliged by nudging a nothing shot that Jaques clasped low down to give Casson his second Test wicket.
The momentum was suddenly with Australia, who quickly took the new ball, and from the third delivery with the fresh one, Clark trapped Chanderpaul (50) in front with a ball that pitched in line and straightened, and West Indies were in big trouble. Some flashy resistance from Jerome Taylor and a gutsy comeback from Sewnarine Chattergoon, who batted with a severe ankle injury, nudged the target under triple-figures but Australia's four main bowlers made sure of the success.
Clark trapped Denesh Ramdin plumb lbw with a straight one, Mitchell Johnson found some bounce to entice Taylor to edge to Brad Haddin, and Lee had Chattergoon caught behind driving at a wide one. Lee finished the job by removing Powell after Casson picked up his third victim when Sulieman Benn skied a catch towards point. It was a solid debut from Casson, whose first-class bowling average of 40.36 may not have inspired complete confidence that he would step comfortably up to Test level. But he refused to back down after being beaten into near submission by Bravo, who had earlier handled the fast men with confident defensive strokes.
Bravo proved the perfect partner for Chanderpaul, who continued to be the rock for West Indies. He tucked and glanced in his usual fashion and brought up his 8000th Test run, becoming the fourth West Indies batsman to the milestone, and by the time he finally departed he had 442 runs for the series, a tally that was more than a hundred greater than any other player from either team and enough to earn him the title as Player of the Series.
The partnership between Bravo and Chanderpaul caused major headaches for Ponting, who was already without Andrew Symonds due to a back strain, and he must have been starting to wonder what on earth had happened to Test cricket if 475 was no longer a safe lead. Such was the confidence of the two batsmen that, until they were split with 172 more required, West Indies' record chase of 418 against Australia at St John's in 2003 was looking vulnerable.
But Ponting's men stuck to their tactics and through Casson and Clark, then Johnson and Lee, the plan started to come together. The most likely result was reached and Australia have now failed to win only one of their past 16 Test series, the mis-step coming in the 2005 Ashes.
Australia head for the limited-overs series with a Test victory, the Frank Worrell Trophy, and a few positive signs, including the form of Simon Katich and a reasonable start to Casson's international career. Still, the win was not nearly as comfortable as they might have expected. Despite the loss, West Indies should be proud of their efforts against the No. 1, and they have proved to the world that Australia's dominance is not as absolute.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo