Disappointed but not despondent over their defeat at Sabina Park yesterday, West Indies have immediately substantiated the advance they have made over the past six months.
In pressing Australia hard, they showed that the victories over South Africa in December and Sri Lanka last month were no flukes but genuine evidence that confidence crushed by years of humiliation is returning. The fightback to take six wickets for 130 on the second day after Australia accumulated 301 for 4 on the first was the first sign of the revival.
The battling fourth-wicket partnership of 128 after the loss of the top three for 68 in the first innings was another, not so much because of Shivnarine Chanderpaul's reliability, that is taken for granted, but more specifically because Runako Morton was one half of it. It should be an innings that convinces him, and others, that he belongs at this level.
Above all, the fiery hostility of Fidel Edwards throughout and Daren Powell on the third evening, when they blew away Australia's top four, along with the exceptional standard of the catching and fielding revealed that two vital elements are falling into place. Seven quite exceptional catches were snared. In England a year earlier, they seemed unable to catch a cold, even in a damp and chilly summer.
For the third time in six Tests, all 20 opposition wickets were taken, a rarity since the end of the Ambrose-Walsh era. And Jerome Taylor is reportedly ready to return to add further punch to the attack for the second Test on Friday. Weaknesses were still exposed. The result, after all, was defeat.
Even on Chris Gayle's return, the top of the order is unsettled and there remains an over-reliance on Chanderpaul in the middle order, especially when Ramnaresh Sarwan, the rock of the previous series against Sri Lanka, and in the pivotal No.3 spot, reverts to surrendering his wicket with loose strokes, as he did twice in this match.
Dwayne Bravo, as exciting a cricketer as there is in world cricket at present, needs to apply Brian Lara's advice of a couple of years back that he is a batting, more than a bowling, allrounder. More consistent runs are also required from Denesh Ramdin at No.7. He has reached standards behind the stumps to match any contemporary keeper but apart from the new Australian keeper Brad Haddin, Ramdin is the only one of the present lot without a hundred after 26 Tests.
The going is sure to get tougher over the remaining two Tests. The Australians have been put on notice that they are in a contest and they will be bolstered by the return of Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke, two of their major batsmen.
Their energy and endeavour that scuttled West Indies' chances within an hour and a half yesterday were of a champion team whose status is at risk. It was reminiscent of West Indies' efforts as their long-established dominance was coming to an end in the 1990s. Stuart Clark and Brett Lee were to Australia what Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were to West Indies when they turned back South Africa in the one-off Test in Barbados in 1992 and England in Trinidad in 1994.
South Africa were 122 for 2 entering the last day, in sight of 202 for an historic triumph. Ambrose and Walsh brushed aside their last eight wickets for 26. England needed 194 to level the series two years later. Ambrose and Walsh demolished them for 46.
In 1997, in Walsh's absence, India (Tendulkar, Dravid, Azharuddin, Ganguly and all) felt the same pressure from Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose and folded for 81 when requiring only 119.
Champions do not easily yield their crown. But, with time, they get harder and harder to defend. Like the West Indies did, Australia are now finding that out.