MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Under fire from all quarters after an abysmal start to their tour, West Indies have pledged to be more competitive at the traditional Boxing Day test but will struggle to prevent hosts Australia from taking an unassailable 2-0 series lead.
Coming off a three-day trouncing in the opener in Hobart, the tourists make their first appearance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 15 years, with local pundits questioning their stature to play in the marquee tests of the home summer.
Adding insult to injury, a number of top West Indies players have been competing in Australia’s domestic ‘Big Bash’ Twenty20 tournament, having made themselves unavailable for the three-test series that resumes on Saturday.
The situation was described as “totally” frustrating by West Indies coach Phil Simmons, who hopes the carnival atmosphere of the Boxing Day match and the widespread criticism of his players can combine to sting Jason Holder’s side into action.
A fiery pre-series call to arms by bowling consultant Curtly Ambrose fell flat in Hobart, where the West Indies attack was brought to its knees in the first session by the power hitting of openers David Warner and Joe Burns.
The tourists were given only two days to find some form in a nub of a tour match in Geelong, where they made hard work of a state side cobbled together with a grab-bag of grade-level cricketers.
A missed catch during the game by fast bowler Jerome Taylor, who had his back to the play when the ball sailed in his direction, was seen as a symptom of the team’s malaise.
More will be required of Taylor and Kemar Roach, whose modest workloads in Hobart left their captain Holder and two-test left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican shouldering a heavy burden after a series-ending ankle injury to Shannon Gabriel.
There is little in the cupboard for Simmons and the selectors, who will weigh recalling legspinner Devendra Bishoo or uncapped all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite.
By contrast, Steven Smith’s emerging Australia side have few concerns, barring the dilemma of fitting top order batsman Usman Khawaja into the side after his recovery from injury.
Either Shaun Marsh or opener Burns are tipped to make way for the stylish left-hander and both would have reasons to feel aggrieved, with the former having scored 182 in Hobart and the latter teaming well with Warner since the New Zealand series.
The third and final match of the series starts in Sydney on Jan. 3.