How quickly this game can change. West Indies started the fourth day searching for a way to turn their dominance into a victory. They ended it hoping to avoid defeat. In between, Ryan Harris led an outstanding tail-end fightback from Australia that allowed Michael Clarke to make a bold declaration from behind, a decision that was justified when Ben Hilfenhaus scythed through the top three West Indies batsmen in the first five overs of their second innings.
As tea approached, it was hard to tell who was wobblier, the West Indies batsmen or the rummies in Kensington Oval's Party Stand. At least the spectators had an excuse for their lack of stability. Clarke's declaration gave West Indies half an hour to bat before the break and when it arrived they were 4 for 3. Australia's last three pairs had just added 156 runs between them. It was about as disastrous a period as West Indies could have endured.
In a few crazy hours, all the hard work the hosts had done over the first three days evaporated. By stumps, they had steadied a little, but only a little, and they finished the day at 71 for 5, with Narsingh Deonarine on 20 and Carlton Baugh on 2. It meant West Indies held a slim lead of 114 runs and with only five wickets in hand, they still needed a solid batting performance on the fifth morning to prevent the Australians chasing a small target.
The pitch had started to show some variable bounce but after the way their tail-enders batted, Australia would fancy their chances of chasing a target of around 200. For West Indies, much rested on the shoulders of Deonarine, a man with a point to prove after he was told by the coach Ottis Gibson he was on probation having been recalled to the side for the first time in nearly two years.
Deonarine had helped West Indies recover with a 50-run stand that ended shortly before stumps when Darren Bravo (32) edged behind off Peter Siddle. It was just the breakthrough the Australians wanted after Hilfenhaus ripped through the top order and Harris nicked out Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who had clung on like a barnacle in the first innings but managed only 12 in the second.
West Indies were 17 for 4 when Chanderpaul was done by a good ball that moved away fractionally off the seam. Hilfenhaus had also found just enough movement to trouble Adrian Barath, who was the first to fall when he was bowled by a ball that shaped to swing away and then straightened back between bat and pad.
Two balls later, Kraigg Brathwaite feathered behind playing an uncharacteristically aggressive stroke and his edge was so thin that the umpire Ian Gould did not appear likely to give him out, but the batsman walked. In his next over, Hilfenhaus trapped Kirk Edwards lbw and a review of Gould's decision could not save the batsman, and Clarke's decision to declare 43 runs in arrears was looking inspired.
The Australian lower order had provided major frustrations for West Indies, especially Harris, who finished unbeaten on 68, and the No.11 Nathan Lyon, who remained not out on 40. They had put on 77 for the final wicket and could have batted on further, but Clarke wasn't convinced a draw was the best outcome Australia could manage.
Australia added 40 runs after lunch and the innings was nearly brought to an end with the score at 391 when Harris was given out lbw to Fidel Edwards for 66. But with a review up his sleeve, Harris asked for the third umpire to check Gould's on-field decision and the replay showed the ball would have sailed over the top of the stumps.
There were precious few other opportunities for West Indies as their heads bowed and shoulders slumped during the final partnership, the second-highest tenth-wicket stand ever by an Australian pair against West Indies. Things had started perfectly for West Indies as they took the new ball in the first over of the day and quickly had Michael Hussey back in the dressing room having added only one to his overnight score.
Hussey pushed forward at a Kemar Roach delivery that angled across him and his edge was well taken by Carlton Baugh low to his left. Siddle followed for 0 when he ducked a shortish delivery from Fidel Edwards and gloved a catch to gully, and Australia were 250 for 7. Matthew Wade and Harris added 35 for the eighth wicket and both men played some promising shots but Wade's patience eventually deserted him and he drove expansively at Edwards and edged to slip for 28 from 97 deliveries.
Hilfenhaus provided some entertainment with five boundaries in his 24, an innings that ended when he tried to whack Roach over midwicket and lost his middle stump. But it wasn't the end for the Australian lower order as Harris and Lyon's partnership reached 37 at lunch, both men having played some impressive strokes and they were particularly good at driving when the bowlers overpitched.
Harris struck seven boundaries and brought up his half-century from his 76th ball with a clip through midwicket, and his determination was evident in his celebration as he gritted his teeth and settled in for some more batting. Lyon also played some strong drives and brought up his highest first-class score.
Clarke denied him the chance of scoring a half-century, but it was the furthest thing from the captain's mind as he sought a way to win the match. By stumps, victory had become a much more realistic proposition.