The preliminaries are over and the real exam for the tired Australians, led by an underdone Michael Clarke, starts on Saturday against the West Indies.
With Australia ranked No. 1 in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and the Windies a lowly No. 8, one would have expected a landslide victory in the ODI series which was completed last month. Instead the series was drawn 2-2 with one match tied.
The two-match Twenty20 series was also tied.
In these matches Michael Clarke, the Test captain, did not play and Ricky Ponting, in my opinion, was unwisely dropped.
The practice game against West Indies Cricket Board President’s XI at Bridgetown, Barbados which concluded on Wednesday was vital. Australia won by eight wickets but it was not a confidence booster as the opposition was made up mostly of untried players.
The bowlers performed well, fast-medium Ryan Harris taking 4/23 and left-arm orthodox spinner Michael Beer 4/41 in the first innings, with fast bowler Ben Hilfenhaus grabbing 4/8 off seven devastating overs in the second innings, while off-spinner Nathan Lyon took 4/17. But the batting, apart from Peter Forrest’s 53 not out in the first innings, was disappointing.
Paradoxically, Forrest is unlikely to play in the first Test on the same venue.
Clarke appeared rusty for a No. 1 ranked Test batsman, as he made 38 and 4. Nor did big names Shane Watson and Ponting exactly set the ground on fire.
My team for the first Test
David Warner, Ed Cowan, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade (wk), Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon. 12th man: Peter Forrest.
Pattinson and Siddle will open the attack with Hilfenhaus and Watson bowling later. Spin will be provided by Lyon and Clarke.
If the pitch is a turner Beer should replace a quick bowler.
As for the Test starting on Saturday, I’ll predict Australia will win narrowly but spinner Davendra Bishoo will be man of the match.
I’ve noticed that on this tour, Australian batsmen have shown some weakness against leg-spin, and Bishoo should be ready to fire.
I may have backed a Windies win if their champion hitters Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard were not axed from their team. The Windies selectors and Gayle have been at war due to Gayle preferring to be a freelance player. Surely a dialogue between the warring factions would benefit the West Indies cricket. Compromise is not weakness.
Just look at how the English Cricket Board and Kevin Pietersen have made up their differences for their country’s good.
Pollard is considered an ODI/T20 specialist – much like David Warner was until last November. But how Warner adapted to Test conditions! Pollard has not played a single Test so far. Given a chance he could make a difference between his Test side winning or losing.