From Colin Benjamin in Trinidad
Michael’s Clarke’s Australian side will go into today’s penultimate test of the Digicel three-test series and 12th edition of Sir Frank Worrell Trophy with the advantage against the home side at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, after their historic win in the opening test at “The Mecca”, Kensington Oval last week.
Australia’s three-wicket victory was only the second time (excluding the innings forfeit in Centurion between England and South Africa in 2000) that a team had managed to come back and win a Test despite declaring with a score less than that of their opponents in test cricket’s 126-year history.
In a series where the players have little time to recover mentally or physically given the back-to-back tests, the gravity of that lost cannot be understated.
Certainly, it will take a lot out of the West Indies unit, already weakened before the test series due to absence of large quota of prominent players to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and injuries – to topple what is basically a full-strength Australian XI.
Clarke, also compared the Barbados win to a famous Australian Ashes victory in Adelaide 2006, which demoralized England to such an extent that they ended up being whitewashed 5-0.
Speaking to the international media on the iconic steps of the Brian Lara pavilion, when confronted with these facts, West Indies skipper Darren Sammy noted that the mood in the camp was still very positive despite the aforementioned.
“The camp is still confident despite what happened in Barbados. After the defeat, myself and coach (Ottis) Gibson told the players to be proud since we did a lot of things right and to keep believing we can beat Australia,” stated Sammy.
Regardless of Sammy’s typically positive outlook the team will have to produce on the field in order to prevent Clarke’s Aussies from another series sweep.
Today’s second test is the 58th test being contested at the premier test venue in the “Twin-Island Republic.”
The West Indies team has a peculiar record at this venue winning 18 tests, losing 18 and drawing 21 in matches played from 1930-2010.
Despite those results, the Queen’s Park Oval is most famous for the legendary Curtly Ambrose’s almost single handed routing of England for 46 in 1994 and India’s once world-record fourth innings run-chase in 1976.
The West Indies’ head-to-head record against the boys from Down Under at the venue is a flattering one since both both teams have recorded three victories each in clashes from 1955-2003.
The last meeting in 2003 is fondly remembered by most local Trinidadian’s and the general regional cricket public for Brian Lara’s first ever century at the venue.
“The Prince of Port-of-Spain” scored his first test hundred on his home ground against speedster Brett Lee and company on the final day.
Spin and rain threat
“Dry and tacky” was term Clarke used to describe the grassless surface and it raises the possibility that both teams could play two spinners today.
“There is big possibility we could play two spinners on that wicket. The brief look I had of it yesterday it was grassless and pretty dry and tacky. So myself and new selector Marsh (Rodney) and the rest of the selectors will certainly have to think hard about including Michael Beer,” explained Clarke.
He added: “I also reckon rain will play a big part in this test. The forecast is for rain for the first three days, but even if that doesn’t happen we could definitely face a dilemma on all three days of losing time and overs. The place gets dark at 5pm here since we landed, so this could be an issue. We can’t control that however and will simply plan for another five-days of hard cricket.
It is not clear if the West Indies will also play two spinners as well.
Sammy, when pressed by the media, was very coy and played his cards very close to his chest.
It is widely anticipated, however, that his Windward Island colleague and off-spinner Shane Shillingford will be squeezed into the XI somehow.
Key battle of the test
The most intriguing battle of the test will be how Australia’s batsmen play Sammy on this surface.
With batting expected to be a battle of attrition in which the modus operandi for run-scoring may tend to come from stoic resistance and grafting batsman-ship, this could be a surface where Sammy’s bowling could thrive.
During the opening test on the 2011 home series at the Providence stadium, Guyana, on an almost identical surface, Sammy’s accurate wicket-to-wicket bowling, which he has described twice in the few months as one which international batsman “under-rate” – aided in bundling the Pakistani batsmen to give the West Indies their only win of the calendar.
No doubt the Australian’s batting line-up, led by the experienced Ricky Ponting, who is the only member in their squad to play a test at the Queen’s Park Oval, will not let Sammy’s bowling draw them into a false sense of security on what is expected to be a difficult batting wicket.
SQUADS:WEST INDIES – Darren Sammy (captain), Kirk Edwards (vice-captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Fidel Edwards, Kieran Powell, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Shane Shillingford.
AUSTRALIA – Michael Clarke (captain), Shane Watson (vice-captain), Ed Cowan, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mike Hussey, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Michael Beer, Peter Forrest, Mitchell Starc.
UMPIRES: Ian Gould, Marais Erasmus; TV – Tony Hill.