Bennett King, the West Indies coach, was fuming. With good reason.
For the second time in eight days, the local club bowlers Cricket Australia are mandated to provide for the touring team's practice session did not show up yesterday at Junction Oval, home of St Kilda Cricket Club and venue for the three-day match against Victoria starting Saturday.
"It's simply not good enough," King protested. "When the Australians tour the West Indies, I'm sure they expect and are supplied with bowlers for net practice. We didn't have any a couple of days before the Test up at Brisbane and we haven't had them here again for our first full practice since the Test. It's put pressure on our bowlers and it upsets our planning."
There is a memorandum of understanding between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and its equivalent, Cricket Australia, covering the issue. The individual state association, here the Victorian Cricket Association, is given the responsibility. Manager Tony Howard said he would pursue the matter once more with Cricket Australia. He was so sure it wouldn't happen again; he didn't bring along his cricket kit and could not help out with his still respectable off-spin, as he did in Brisbane.
Thankfully, Darryl Brown, the Trinidad and Tobago all-rounder who had three one-day internationals for the West Indies in Sri Lanka and Sharjah in 2001-02, brought along a couple of bowlers from the Keilor club that he captains in the Victoria Turf Association. After turning out for London club, Dulwich, in the English summer, Brown, 31, has spent the last four seasons in Melbourne where he is seeking residency. A surprise choice when brought in for the three-way series in Sri Lanka, he now concentrates on his batting since sciatica has limited his bowling. Another West Indian, Nicholas deGroot, was also present but only to catch up with those he played with and against in regional cricket for Guyana. Born and resident in Canada, which he represented in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, he is planning to migrate to Melbourne. He plays for the Hastings club on the Mornington Penisula league, just outside of the city.
The shortage of practice bowlers is a distraction the West Indies could do without as they aim to put the four-day defeat by 379 runs in the first Test behind them in what should be another typically stern test from a state team. They have another, somewhat different in nature, in the form and fitness of Brian Lara. Contemporary cricket's most explosive batsman went into the first Test with 47 runs in his six previous innings for the season in Australia. It is a sequence compounded by a damaged right little finger. Yet another umpiring mistake cut him short as he battled to 30 in the first innings in Brisbane, a sharp low gully catch dismissed him for 16 in the second.
The question to be considered was whether it was better to allow his finger injury more time to fully heal or to give him the chance of a substantial innings leading into the last two, back-to-back Tests. It is probably a decision left up to Lara himself to make. On the previous West Indies tour five years ago, he was similarly out of touch with scores of 19 and 20 against Victoria and 0, 4, 0 and 17 in the first two Tests. The match between Tests, against Australia 'A' in Hobart, brought him back to his best. Delaying his entrance until No.7 because of a leg problem, his 231 from 266 balls included 40 fours, six in the same over from Andy Bichel, and two sixes. A few days later, he amassed 182 in the Adelaide Test. A similar turnaround would have a profound effect on the current series - but so would further damage to his finger. It is a selection dilemma.
Wavell Hinds, who fractured the little finger in his left hand on the first day against Queensland, remains unavailable. He has resumed knocking up and should be ready if needed for the second Test. Dwayne Smith is certain to have his first and probably only match of the tour, a chance to show what progress his game has made under King's demanding regime.
Victoria's most popular sportsman, Shane Warne, is predictably not in their team. There is no other Test player although Brad Hodge, their 30-year-old middle order batsman, could be one by Friday when Australia name their squad for next week's second Test in Hobart. In the corresponding match five years ago, won by Victoria by an innings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Hodge scored 134 before retiring with a muscle strain. He has been the most consistent batsman in Australian state cricket for some years but is yet to play a Test. A strong lobby for his inclusion has developed since his form in the one-day internationals on last summer's Ashes tour of England. Left-hander Simon Katich's struggles there and his duck in the Brisbane Test puts his place in jeopardy. It could go to Hodge. Victoria have reeled off two successive victories in the inter-state Pura Cup tournament, the second on Monday after following on against Tasmania.