By David Fisher
Ahhh…Australia vs West Indies in the Caribbean! It was mythical stuff when I was growing up. I’d read about the fearsome fast bowlers baying for blood. The crowds cheering every body blow of the battered and bruised batsmen. I remember being captivated reading about exotic venues like Sabina Park and Kensington Oval. In particular, I remember reading about Allan Border’s 98 in Antigua and Wayne Phillips’ 120 at Kensington in 1983-84 and wishing I was there at the venue itself.
Then came pay TV and we got to watch it live; Steve Waugh confronting Curtly Ambrose; an overweight Greg Ritchie part of a pitch invasion. Cricket in the Caribbean was just brilliant.
Nowadays, of course, cricket in the Caribbean conjures up much different images. Excitable but small crowds. The unbeatable machine is now a rag-tag team with a bit of talent, who don’t win much and struggle with the legacy they’ve inherited. TheWest Indies will never be the side they once were. Probably never even be close.
What does this mean for touring sides?
A West Indies tour now isn’t something to fear. It is an opportunity. Even the minnow nations can go to the West Indies and think they’re a chance.
As a player, though, a tour to the West Indies is a catch-22 situation. Do well, that’s fine, it was to be expected. ‘It’s only theWest Indies’. Fail, and eyebrows raise….’what happened there….it was only the West Indies!’
For this Australian team, that’s certainly the case. Australia should be far too strong for the West Indies. It’s hard too see them having the firepower too bowl Australia out twice AND score enough runs to win a Test.
While Australia should win 2-0 or 3-0, it’s actually a risky series for a couple of players. It is a good opportunity for Ed Cowan and Dave Warner to further establish themselves at the top of the order. I’d expect to see Cowan’s no-fuss style give him a pretty consistent series against an average attack while it’s hard not to see Warner coming off once or twice. These two players should be able to consolidate their positions.
Likewise for Michael Clarke, the opportunity beckons to further build on his outstanding record with the bat as captain. If fit, he should be amongst the runs.
The real question marks in this series hang over Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting. Both players, Ponting in particular, answered their critics brilliantly against India. The murmurs about Ponting though started again during the Commonwealth Bank Series before he was eventually dropped. Both players will be hungry for runs, particularly given the selectors have blooded Peter Forrest in the 50 over side. Forrest has clearly been blooded with a view to graduating to the test side.
For Hussey and Ponting, this is where the catch-22 strikes. A big series for them will have their critics shrugging, ‘It was only the West Indies’. A poor series, and those same critics will be that bit louder…..’They’re too old, after all, it was only the West Indies’.
It’s also a big series for Shane Watson. He’ll be the new number three. His batting dropped off in 2011 as he took more responsibility with the ball. Watson needs to re-establish himself. He has a great opportunity to do this.
The series is a big opportunity for the three quick bowlers – James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are both in career best form and full of confidence. Likewise, James Pattinson will be itching to get back in the test arena and enhance his fast growing reputation. I really can’t see the West Indies batsman resisting Australia’s pace trio too many times.
In many ways, the bowler to watch for Australia will be Nathan Lyon. He has been given a good run, the captain has faith in him and he finished the Indian series on a high.
Of course, it would be remiss to write about the Australian side’s prospects against the West Indies without touching on the wicketkeeping spot.
Brad Haddin leaving the tour has given Matthew Wade a massive opportunity. A successful series, and Matthew Wade will be Australia’s keeper for the immediate future.
Should he fail, however, then it will be all bets off for Australia’s next series with perhaps Haddin, Peter Nevill, Chris Hartley and a possible fit again Tim Paine all eyeing the wicketkeeping spot.
What about the West Indies?
While I think they’ll be cleaned up, they are capable of having their moments. Their hopes of being competitive will rest with a couple of individuals who through their own performances, may be able to lift the side. It’s doubtful though that they have the quality in 1-11 to sustain enough pressure to beat Australia over five days of cricket. Australia were poor in the ODI series, but the test side I different and as we saw last home summer against India, much more disciplined.
There seems to be a bit of a circus building up over Chris Gayle’s availability and I have to wonder, whilst on his day his quality isn’t in doubt, whether they’re best served by not playing him if he isn’t 100% committed. If Gayle does play, he is certainly capable of the type of innings that can switch momentum. The player I’m looking forward to seeing the most is Darren Bravo, who has made a fantastic start to his short test career. On the whole though, the West Indies batting line up is far too inconsistent to put big scores on a disciplined Australian attack who, has we saw against India, now bowl well to good plans.
The West Indies’ real problems are with the ball. An inability to take 20 wickets on a regular basis has plagued the West Indiesin recent years. That is why they have just two wins from their past 21 Tests.
Sunil Narine could have changed that. He has troubled the Australians in the ODIs and would have been the one to watch in the Test series. He is untried at Test level though and only has a handful of first-class matches behind him. Sadly, he isn’t available as he is playing the IPL instead, which is a real shame.
Generally though, their pace attack is honest without putting fear into any batting line-up. On a flat track – they may have some long days in the field.
Overall, with Australia’s firepower, confidence and experience, I can’t see anything less than 2-0 or 3-0. That being said, the inner child in me who grew up in awe of the West Indies wouldn’t mind if they took a Test off Australia….
April 7, 2012 – First Test, Kensington
April 15, 2012 – Second Test, Queens Park
April 23, 2012 – 3rd Test, Windsor Park
(David Fisher, a 30-something cricket fan from Sydney. His first day at the cricket was the 1982-83 Ashes Test, and he has been a regular at Australian matches at the SCG since. When time allows and work doesn’t get in the way, he writes the blog,From Beyond The Boundary Rope)