Australia 60-2 chasing 216 for series sweep against West Indies
Steven Smith made a positive start to Australia’s chase of 216, but a shorthanded West Indies attack hit back late on day three to breathe life anew into the second Test at the Gabba.
Australia reached stumps at 60-2 and need a further 156 runs to claim a sweep of the home Test summer. But this unpredictable contest may have more twists and turns with heavy showers forecast on days four and five due to the after-effects of Cyclone Kirrily.
New-ball bowlers Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph started sluggishly and failed to make the most of favourable conditions under lights. Australia rattled off 24 runs before opener Usman Khawaja tickled Alzarri Joseph down the leg side.
West Indies’ hopes of ending a two-decade Test drought against Australia were further raised when Justin Greaves squared up Marnus Labuschagne, whose edge was brilliantly snaffled by Kevin Sinclair in the slips. Sinclair – not for the first time in his debut Test – celebrated by crossing his arms after he rose from the turf.
Smith and Cameron Green survived a probing examination before stumps. Green was all at sea and struck on the pads by Greaves, but West Indies were unsuccessful in their review. He then edged the next delivery in front of second slip.
In contrast, Smith looked technically sound and hit the ball crisply to finish unbeaten on 33 from 56 balls.
It was a resilient effort from West Indies, who were without quick Shamar Joseph after he was struck on the toe on his right foot by an inswinging yorker from Mitchell Starc. It was initially given out lbw but Starc had overstepped. He had to retire hurt to end a West Indies second innings that fell away.
They had moved to 148-4, with a lead of 170, when the in-form Kavem Hodge hit to Travis Head at forward short-leg and took a couple of steps forward with the stroke, and Head quickly flicked the ball at the stumps. A desperate Hodge dove back but his bat was in the air when the ball hit the stumps in what might prove a match-turning moment.
It followed a trend where West Indies lost wickets almost out of nowhere and were left to rue four of their top six batters scoring between 29 and 41 but not kicking on.
Number three Kirk McKenzie, who drove well during his stay, top-scored with 41 and along with Alick Athanaze played attractively and threatened substantial scores before they both fell to Nathan Lyon either side of the dinner break.
Australia’s attack toiled in oppressive conditions, but managed to conjure breakthroughs at crucial junctures much like they did when challenged against Pakistan earlier in the summer.
With the quicks feeling the effects of the hot and humid weather, Lyon was relied upon and he threatened on a ground he has a terrific record at. Bowling quicker than usual, Lyon produced sharp turn and bounce to finish with 3-42 from 22 overs.
After a frenetic day two, the match returned to normalcy as the surface settled and West Indies eyed batting long. Resuming at 13-1, West Indies needed to survive the new ball onslaught and reached the 25-over mark, after which batting has proven easier, relatively unscathed.
But the surface did not offer as much zip as it did late on day two when Australia had declared 22 runs behind and Josh Hazlewood had sent back Tagenarine Chanderpaul.
McKenzie motored along to thwart Australia’s pace attack. In contrast, skipper Kraigg Brathwaite was anchored to the crease and scored just six runs off his first 33 balls before whacking Starc uppishly through the covers for his first boundary of the innings.
The batters defied probing hard-length bowling from Pat Cummins and notched a half-century stand before Brathwaite chipped Green to cover.
McKenzie slowed down and on his 50th delivery, he missed an attempted sweep to be trapped lbw on Lyon’s second delivery. McKenzie decided to review, having been hit high on his back leg, but ball tracking showed it to be clipping the off bail and the decision was upheld.
Athanaze, who has had limited impact in the series, showed glimpses of why he is highly rated with several attractive strokes and combined well with Hodge after dinner to rattle Australia.
Australia’s frustrations boiled over when Mitchell Marsh made a hash of a fielding attempt leading to Lyon, the bowler, gesticulating in annoyance.
But Lyon’s mood soon brightened when he dismissed Athanaze on 35 after tossing up a delivery that was edged to slip, where Smith took a sharp catch.
It was a relief for Smith, who had earlier in the innings dropped Athanaze and Brathwaite, as West Indies fell away before their late fightback left the match delicately poised. (ESPNcricinfo)