(Reuters) – West Indies have said they are embracing their underdog status for the three-test series against Australia, which starts in Hobart on Thursday, but the reality is they have very little choice in the matter.
Jason Holder’s inexperienced squad arrived in Brisbane fresh from being swept 2-0 in Sri Lanka and went on to lose their only tour match against a Cricket Australia XI, which featured six first class debutants, by a crushing 10 wickets.
The days when intimidating West Indies pace bowlers rampaged across Australia breaking bones and smashing wickets on the way to winning four of five series from 1979 to 1993 are long gone, and their last test win Down Under came in February 1997. Backs-against-the-wall defiance would seem the only remaining strategy for the West Indians as they bid to hand Australia a first test defeat on home soil since Ricky Ponting’s farewell against South Africa more than three years ago.
Having lost a string of test stalwarts to retirements, Australia are not yet good, nor settled, enough to allow complacency to creep in and the chance to score test runs and take test wickets will be motivation aplenty. Their stocks of pace bowlers have been sorely tested by the loss of leftarmers Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, to retirement and injury respectively, during the 2-0 series win over New Zealand. Josh Hazlewood, the only quick to play all three matches against the Black Caps, looks set to carry the load for a fourth straight test, supported by the injury-prone Darren Pattinson and the ever-reliable Peter Siddle.
Holder has said the tourists would aim to quickly rip through top order standouts, such as David Warner and Steve Smith, in order to feast on a middle order they perceive as Australia’s weakness. It is a tactic more easily planned than accomplished, however, as New Zealand’s vaunted pace attack discovered in the first two tests of their series against Australia last month. Opener Warner, whose three centuries in the Brisbane and Perth tests included a magnificent 253, and skipper Smith, who scored 138 in Perth, both boast averages over the 50 mark. To combat that prolific form, all-rounder Holder looks likely to employ a four-pronged pace attack of himself, Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel and the experienced Kemar Roach.
It is in the batting stakes, however, that the Caribbean players will have to show marked improvement at Bellerive Oval, which is unlikely to be bursting at the seams. The traditions of the Boxing Day and New Year’s tests should ensure better crowds in Melbourne and Sydney but even cricket-mad Australians have their limits when it comes to watching uncompetitive sport.