By Madan Mohan
West Indies were left in the unenviable predicament of the eternal bridesmaid as the first Test of the Frank Worrell Trophy at Barbados drew to a close. Australia stole a win right under their watch, in broad daylight. What promised, if only fleetingly, to be a Calypso revival was ultimately another exemplary display of Australian spirit.
Australians may not be especially likeable, but is there ever so much to like about their cricket. Staring down the barrel at 248 for five at stumps on Day Three, Australia looked well short of West Indies’s first innings score of 449. Over the next two days, they turned it around and nosed ahead of West Indies in a thrilling finish. And for once, they did it without even playing outstanding cricket.
It is not that Australia were terrible. Their tail resisted stoutly and added invaluable runs to restrict the first innings deficit to just 43. Thereafter, Ben Hilfenhaus produced another ‘brainy’ spell of pace bowling to turn the tables on the home side. But that no Australian batsman hit a century in the Test (Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s ton in the first innings went in vain) shows that they were not quite the invincible, unstoppable Australia of yore.
But they fought bravely to overcome their vulnerability and also smelt opportunities where other teams don’t. Let’s return to that first innings deficit. It was 43 but it could have been still fewer had skipper Michael Clarke not declared the innings. What kind of captain declares behind the opposition in the first innings?
Unlike most other modern skippers, Clarke still understands that Test cricket is as much about time as it is about runs. A brilliantly timed declaration caught West Indies off guard and triggered their second innings collapse. Considering that Australia nearly ran out of time on Day Five due to rain interruptions, it was a crucial declaration, to say the least.
One couldn’t help recall India’s own inertia at Dominica last year when they pulled out of a stiff chase rather prematurely. Australia were prepared to risk a possible loss in order to give themselves time to win. They gambled boldly and went for broke, on a pitch with as many cracks as there are craters on the moon. Back in the day when they had the weighty presence of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in their bowling line-up, they could afford such gambles in any case. But they have not shelved their positive approach even now that the team is much weaker than that great Australian team, because they realise that therein lies the key to victory.
It is something West Indies skipper Darren Sammy would need to imbibe if he has to propel his team to greater heights. He has inspired a raw, inexperienced team (save the presence of Chanderpaul) to punch above their weight and show more resistance than they have in years. But they’ll need to be more relentless in their pursuit of victory if they are to learn how to win again. They assumed the match was won long before it really was and when things did not go their way, they stopped thinking about victory too soon.
As for Australia, Clarke has engineered an impressive turnaround in the fortunes of the side that got thrashed 1-3 at home by England in 2010-11. They won’t be meeting their old enemy for sometime and those and other such sterner tests will put the Australian revival in perspective. Meanwhile, they can reflect happily on series wins against Sri Lanka and India and a triumphant start to their Caribbean expedition.
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)