Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
BPL 2023 (2)
Ranji Trophy (4)
ENG-L in SL (1)
WI 4-Day (3)
Super Smash (W) (1)
Super Smash (1)
A lopsided bout ended on the sort of low-key day that Nathan Lyon felt confident enough to bowl legbreaks, David Warner worked on improving his average against West Indies, and Mitchell Marsh walked out to bat at No. 3 for Australia. All this in front of a crowd of 6865, swelled mainly by free admission to the SCG.
There had been thoughts among Australians of making a game of it - manufactured last-day chases run deep in the DNA of the coach Darren Lehmann, and the captain Steven Smith is of a similar bent. They offered Jason Holder the chance to defend something in the region of 370 runs in 70 overs, after the hosts had declared their first innings at 0 for 0, but the offer was rebuffed. West Indies, it appears, are going to have to learn how not to lose before they try to win.
After the omnipresent rain could not help but make a pair of appearances, proceedings ended with the pleasing introduction of a Richie Benaud Medal for the player of the series, awarded unsurprisingly to the prolific Adam Voges. However, the environment in which this award has been struck contrasts vividly with that which saw Benaud introduce the Frank Worrell Trophy in honour of his opposing number at the conclusion of the epic 1960-61 contest.
Fifty-five years ago, the new trophy was soon to represent global supremacy in cricket, with the chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" still ringing around the MCG as Worrell took his bow. This time around, the medal hung around Voges' neck will not be contested again for quite some time, and almost certainly never during the peak months of the Australian summer.
The poverty of West Indies cricket is underlined by the following numbers. Australia's top five shared six centuries between them, as against the visitors' one. Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith averaged 100 and 214, while Voges piled up 375 runs without being dismissed. All members of the Australian bowling attack in Sydney took their wickets at an average less than 30 runs apiece; Jomel Warrican's five wickets at 76 was the West Indies' feeble best.
There has actually been evidence of improvement from West Indies across the series. Their abject display in Hobart was notably bettered in Melbourne, and in Sydney they were at least able to sustain a first innings for long enough to ensure Australia could never really contemplate manufacturing a victory on the final day. Darren Bravo, Kraigg and Carlos Brathwaite and even Warrican showed signs of promise.
Nevertheless, the team's problems were writ large across the three Tests. In any other team the pathologically languid Marlon Samuels would surely have played his last Test, but the ongoing dispute between the WICB and the cadre of Twenty20 freelancers may well grant him another stay of execution. Jason Holder is a principled and skilful young man, but the burden of captaincy clearly affected his output. The less said about the rest of the pace bowling attack, the better.
Overseeing all this is the coach Phil Simmons, a man who arrived home from a successful stint coaching Ireland with plenty of big ideas for the future. After a strong start that included a drawn series against England - what would South Africa give for that result right now? - Simmons miscalculated by jettisoning Shivnarine Chanderpaul at a time when his experience was still adding greatly to the team, even if his batting had long since begun to fade.
When he assented to Chanderpaul's omission from the home series against Australia, Simmons thought he would be able to negotiate the return of numerous T20 merchants to the Test side. When this did not happen for the tour of Sri Lanka, Simmons complained of outside influences and was summarily banned by the WICB from doing his job. Chanderpaul's absence had a marked effect on Samuels and Bravo; the former increasingly floundering without a more senior bulwark, the latter shrugging off the initial shock to showcase a more deliberate style showing evidence of the Guyanese left-hander's determination.
It is worthwhile noting that as this West Indies side have limped around Australia, the Guyana first-class team are lapping the field in the Caribbean regional tournament thanks in no small part to Chanderpaul's presence. Older and wiser than when he took up the job, Simmons is still hopeful of luring some of the T20 group back to Test cricket. More than ever, he appreciates the need to balance youth with experience.
"I still have the feeling that it will always be good to get the best players from West Indies playing all formats of the game, and if we can get that then we will then have an organisation that's moving forward," Simmons said. "That is my hope now, at the end of the day we might have a solution, but you still might have players that don't think they can play Test cricket or don't really want to play Test cricket anymore."
For Australia, the series represented further strengthening of Steven Smith's standing as leader, while a new model top order settled into their places. For all that, Smith is aware he has simply done the least expected of an Australian captain - win series at home - and greater challenges lie in wait elsewhere. First there will be New Zealand across the Tasman, then Sri Lanka away, building towards that most vexing foreign assignment - India in 2017.
How much value this contest actually had for the hosts is difficult to judge. Confidence was bolstered, certainly, but methods were seldom tested. Marsh and Peter Nevill batted on the final day of the Test in meaningless circumstances when neither had been called upon to bat under pressure all series. Even Warner, a habitual underachiever against the West Indies, was able to improve his record this day.
Much the same question of value will be asked higher up by Cricket Australia, about the point of hosting the West Indies in summer. The chief executive James Sutherland believes there is still plenty of affection for the Caribbean side down under. If so, then it may require board-to-board assistance more substantial than the Richie Benaud Medal to ensure that love can be reciprocated with a requisite standard of cricket.