by Sam Coulson
The West Indies flew to Australia for the second time in a matter of months following their “fall from grace” exit from the T20 World Cup in October, failing to make the final group playoffs. The once fearsome T20 side was in ruins, with head coach Phil Simmons stepping down. Was this their chance to redeem themselves in the longer, traditional format of the game? Legendary former Australian captain Ricky Ponting did not think so. Commenting at the ACS’ season launch luncheon he predicted the series to be “very one sided”.
The Windies started with a four-day game against Australia’s PM XI, which consisted of players such as Peter Hanscomb, Ashton Agar, young up and coming spin bowler Todd Murphy and Australia’s forgotten opener Matthew Renshaw.
Barring a century from Tagenarine Chanderpaul, son of West Indies legend Shivnarine, and a decent display of fast bowling by Alzarri Joseph, it was the Aussies who controlled the match making 322 in the first innings, led by opening pair Renshaw and Marcus Harris putting on 134. The Aussies then dismissed the Windies for 235, taking an 87-run lead.
Declaring only four wickets down for 221 in their second innings, the Aussies set the Windies 308 to win. Had there been a fifth day Australia may have made more in the second innings instead of declaring with Renshaw undefeated on 101. The Windies got close at 8-277 before the game was called a draw.
However, if the West Indies could barely knock over the PM’s XI, how were they supposed to go against run scoring machines, Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith, and the fast-paced barrage of Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Starc, captain Patrick Cummins and Scott Boland?
Fast forward to the First Test at Optus Stadium in Perth. WA hero Justin Langer was scheduled to be commentating the match, with talks of the locals booing the Australian team for, as they see it, “forcing Justin out of his position as head coach”. The thought of being booed did not stop Pat Cummins from leading his country gracefully and tactically.
Choosing to bat first the Aussies piled on the runs, declaring four down for 598 runs, with double centuries to both Labuschagne and Smith. Travis Head fell agonizingly short on 99. The West Indies started probably better than most expected with half centuries from both openers, captain Kriagg Brathwaite and Chanderpaul, going from 78/1 to 159/2 before being dismissed for 283.
Despite having the opportunity to enforce the follow on, Cummins decided to have another bat with the Aussies declaring at 182/2, setting 498 for the West Indies to win. Labuschagne added another century, completed within a session. The West Indies started well, losing their first wicket at 116. Brathwaite went on to a brilliant 110, but unfortunately the remainder succumbed to the spin of Lyon being bowled out for 333, with Lyon claiming six wickets. Crowds were poor at the Optus Stadium.
On to Adelaide for the popular day/night pink ball Test, it wasn’t all good news for the Aussies though with captain Pat Cummins ruled out injured along with Josh Hazelwood leaving Victorian cult hero Scotty Boland to step right up alongside Michael Neser.
The Second Test was one sided with the Aussies winning by 419 runs, only losing 13 wickets overall. Batting first they made 511/7, with Labuschagne making 163 and Head 175. They then dismissed the West Indies for 214 with no one scoring a fifty. The Aussies chose to bat again and put together 199/6 before declaring and setting the Windies 497 to win. The West Indies were dismissed for 77, with the Aussies taking a 2-0 series win. Barring Brathwaite and Chanderpaul, very few of the Windies enhanced their reputations. Indeed it was a one-sided affair.
With the West Indies visit complete it was time for the tour everyone was most excited for, with the South Africans expected to take it right up to the Aussies. The First Test was at Brisbane’s Gabba, with a crowd of 30,000 people on the opening day. Pat Cummins was back and attracted by the very green wicket, he decided to bowl first.
A brave decision in cricket? But a decision that proved worthwhile with the Proteas being dismissed cheaply for 152. It started poorly for the Aussies with David Warner being dismissed on the first ball of the innings. The Aussies found themselves at 4/27 after 11 overs until an heroic and gutsy knock from Travis Head, scoring 92 and pulling his team to 218 all out.
With the Aussies dismissed having a lead of 66, could this be their first real test of the summer? You did not want to walk away from the television, this Test was shaping up to be a belter.
What happened next was a great display of fast bowling by skipper Cummins taking 5/42 and rolling the South Africans for 99. The Aussies chased down the 34 to win, losing four wickets. It was a lively pitch, maybe too lively with the match over within two days. The referee, the legendary West Indian Richie Richardson rated the pitch poor. It was riveting cricket though!
Next up was the famous Boxing Day Test at the home of cricket, the MCG. There were zinc-plastered faces and floppy hat-encased heads everywhere in tribute to the legend, the late Shane Warne. Numerous acknowledgments were made of Warne across the duration of the Test. Of note though, no Australian had claimed a Boxing Day five-for since the great spinner, so the occasion was setup for someone to equal the legend.
Australia won the toss and elected to bowl again, with a hint of green in the pitch. Scott Boland lined up in front of his home crowd, to cheers and an echo of clapping wherever he went on the field. Despite Scotty taking three match wickets, it was the young gun, Cameron Green, who ripped through the Proteas, taking 5/27 and dismissing them for a measly 189.
The Aussies then went on to build an avalanche total of 575/8d, with Warner scoring a double ton in his 100th Test match. On day two, the Aussies withstood a blisteringly hot day and a blistering display of raw pace bowling from Anrich Nortje, regularly clocking rates of mid 150 km/hour. Rising wicket-keeper Alex Carey also scored a maiden ton of 111 on a cooler third day, ably supported by a brave half century from Green nursing a damaged finger. South Africa were dismissed for 204 in the second innings, delivering the Aussies a destructive win, by an innings and 182 runs.
Finger injuries to both Green and Starc necessitated changes for the Third Test in Sydney. Renshaw, in the middle order and Agar, as a second spinner were added to the team for what was expected to be a spinning wicket. Unfortunately, the game was effected by rain, with all the third day abandoned. Usman Khawaja scored an unbeaten 195, of 475/4, before Cummins declared pushing for the win with limited time available. The Aussies tried their best and took it right up to the South Africans, with the follow on enforced when they were dismissed for 255. However, the rain won the battle with the Proteas hanging on with 106/2 in their second innings. Six of the past seven SCG tests have been interrupted by rain with four resulting in a draw.
The Pink Test celebration was, however a success with 265,000 Virtual Pink seats sold, raising $5.3 million for the McGrath Foundation supporting more than 3,700 more families impacted by breast cancer.
Again, few of the Proteas had enhanced their reputations. Nortje impressed with his pace and heart, young all-rounder Marco Jansen was promising, while wicket-keeper batsman Kyle Verreynne showed grit with several half centuries. It was another decisive series victory for Australia.
The opposing teams may not have been a match for the Aussies all summer, however Australia still went about each game with great composure and excellent decision making. We look forward to the tour of India starting soon in February. This will be our biggest challenge for some time.