Australia took the lead in the battle for the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy when, as expected, they defeated the West Indies in the first of the three-Test contests at Sabina Park yesterday.
Powered by pace bowler Stuart Clark who, in the best performance of his 16-match career, pocketed five wickets for 32 runs from 20 testing overs, Australia paraded their ruthless efficiency, highlighted by accurate bowling, tight, stifling field-placings and brilliant fielding.
The match, which many thought could have gone the West Indies way at the start of play, was over 33 minutes to tea when right-arm legspinner Stuart MacGill picked up the last two wickets with successive deliveries to hand Australia victory by a comfortable margin of 95 runs.
Final scores: Australia 431 and 167, the West Indies 312 and 191.
Resuming at 46 for one off 18 overs, with Devon Smith on 19 and captain Ramnaresh Sarwan on eight, the West Indies lost nine wickets, including that of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, for 145 runs in 237 minutes and 49 overs as fast bowlers Clark and Brett Lee, two for 81 off 22 overs, sliced through the West Indies batting like a knife through melted butter, and but for a last kick by Denesh Ramdin, 36, Daren Sammy, 35, and Daren Powell, 27, it would not even have lasted as long it did.
Smith, the little left-hander, gave the West Indian supporters something to cheer and lifted their hopes when, in the morning’s second over, he went forward and drove Lee confidently to the cover boundary.
But for two superb strokes by Runako Morton later on, however, that was the only aggressive stroke by the cream of the West Indies batsmen who, on a pitch off which the ball bounced unpredictably and sometimes awkwardly against bowlers who knew where to pitch the ball and who pitched almost on a perfect length most times, died without the semblance of a fight.
The first to go, after 15 minutes and three overs in the day’s proceedings, was Sarwan for 12 at 55 for two. The batsman attempted a legside shot off an out-swinger from Clark, the ball hit the leading edge of his bat, and Andrew Symonds, the man who makes no mistake in the field, went high and took the catch, behind him, on the second attempt.
The second to go, 16 minutes and three overs later, was Smith for 28 at 60 for three – the batsman shouldering arms against Clark, trapped leg before wicket by a delivery that pitched in line with the stumps, straightened and hit his unprotected pad in front of the wicket.
At that stage, the ship was sinking, the West Indies batsmen looked feeble, and when, with Chanderpaul at the wicket, Morton hooked and then drove Lee, the next delivery, to the long-on boundary, the fans greeted the show of defiance with cheers that rang around the ground.
Man of the match, Australia’s Stuart Clark with his US$3,000 cheque at the end of yesterday’s first Digicel Test at Sabina Park. Clarke took a career-best five for 32 in the West Indies’ second innings to end with match figures of eight for 91.
After the next delivery, however, it was 74 for four as Lee hit back, bowled a good length, well directed delivery, and Morton was on his way – leg before wicket for nine.
With Chanderpaul surviving a chance at five at 75 in the following over from Lee when he edged a catch to slip and Simon Katich dropped the ball, Dwayne Bravo made it 80 for five in the following over when, without moving his feet, he played forward loosely to Clark, offered Mitchell Johnson a simple catch at silly mid-off and walked away after failing to score.
Although the writing was on the wall from the fall of Sarwan’s wicket, even though it is never over until the ‘fat lady’ sings, the fans, even the most optimistic of them, knew that it was over for the West Indies. It was then only a matter of time, when Chanderpaul, the hero of the West Indies first innings, played forward in the following over and, with the ball bouncing more than he expected, tapped a return catch to Lee.
That was 82 for six in the 36th over, with play starting 30 minutes early and 93 minutes gone, there were 57 minutes still to go to lunch, and not many on the ground believed that it would have lasted until the interval.
Ramdin and Sammy, however, took the West Indies to lunch at 117 for six after 49 overs and then, like Powell afterwards, proceeded to entertain the faithful few before the inevitable.
Batting for 93 minutes while facing 59 deliveries, Ramdin stroked five boundaries before he was run-out at 149 for seven. MacGill, coming in from mid-on, hit the wicket at the non-striker’s end with the batsmen scampering for a single. Then after batting for 117 minutes while facing 81 deliveries, Sammy, who shared a seventh-wicket partnership of 67 with Ramdin, played forward to Clark and was leg before wicket at 172 for eight. He hit six boundaries, including a magnificent drive off left-handed pacer Johnson, to the long-on boundary.