Aussies a wicket away
West Indies had Australia shuddering for half the day but by stumps on the fourth day it was the hosts who were one wicket from cracking in a courageous chase in the series-deciding Perth Test on Saturday. Australia grabbed four breakthroughs in the last hour to be on the verge of a 2-0 series win, with Kemar Roach and Gavin Tonge needing another 51 to reach their unlikely victory target of 359.
The match seemed headed for a quick finish when West Indies were 3 for 68 at lunch -- the dangermen Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan were gone -- but Narsingh Deonarine and Brendan Nash combined in a brave partnership that gave them hope. By the scheduled end Australia needed three wickets and took the extra half hour, succeeding only in dismissing Sulieman Benn and Ravi Rampaul. Roach and Tonge not only held on, but added 29 in 30 balls to take the score to 9 for 308, extending the game into a fifth day.
On a swinging afternoon West Indies had started to believe in a drawn series during the second session, when the 128-run stand between Deonarine and Nash was taking them closer to what would be the second-highest successful run-chase at the ground. At tea Australia's bowling had been ineffective, flat and as sick as Mitchell Johnson. By stumps Johnson, who was suffering stomach problems, had bowled through the pain to gain three wickets and Ricky Ponting could relax over his 35th birthday dinner. There will be no long party for the captain, but with a sunny day predicted for Sunday, most of his fears over the result will have disappeared.
Just as Ponting's men were wondering if they would be giving up two huge chases in a row at the ground -- last year South Africa pursued 414 -- they broke through twice in two overs. Deonarine and Dwayne Bravo, the last game-changer in the order, departed to return control to Australia and more dismissals came in the final stages.
A maiden wicket went to Clint McKay when he bowled Denesh Ramdin, but the final one stayed out of reach. Benn struck two sixes off Johnson in his 33 before Theo Doropoulos, the substitute fielder, made up for his earlier miss at mid-on, and Rampaul went in the same Johnson over. Then the last pair showed similar determination as Deonarine and Nash to hold out.
Until his 183rd delivery Nash was an immoveable object, but Doug Bollinger took the new ball and delivered an off-cutter that hit off stump without the batsman playing a shot. It was a sad end for such a gutsy display in which Nash was the side's brick wall, deflecting the ball and insults from the fielders during his 65. Deonarine more than doubled his previous best score with 82, his first Test half-century, as the aggressor in the stand that lasted more than three hours.
The combination was slow at the start, but West Indies didn't need to rush and preventing any further damage was key. As the partnership went on the Australians increased their appealing, especially when the spinners were on, and Marcus North could have had an lbw if a not-out decision for Deonarine, on 65, had been referred to the third umpire.
Further resistance came after tea, with Nash becalmed for 70 minutes on 48, as the Australians worked on suffocating the pair. Neither left-hander made a fatal mistake until Deonarine played back to Shane Watson, who was working from around the wicket, and the ball deflected from pad on the stumps. The Australians roared in relief and were jubilant again a run later when Bravo lashed at Johnson and was caught in the gully by Michael Hussey.
Johnson spent time off the field and on taking the wicket bent over in exhaustion as his teammates patted his back. Nathan Hauritz was also unwell but the burst of wickets after tea ended the queasy feeling for the team.
Nash was unflustered throughout, and deserved the applause when he moved from 48 to his half-century with a glide for four off Watson. Even the bowler, the most chirpy of the Australians, clapped his former Queensland teammate. Watson's 2 for 24 off 12 was an impressive return blighted only by his antics when he removed Chris Gayle to a catch behind on 21.
Travis Dowlin (22) had already departed, finding one of two men in the deep with a hook shot, and when Watson captured Gayle the bowler cheered like a gorilla within a couple of metres of the batsman. Watson was immediately summoned by the umpires, but the Australians weren't too worried as they thought they had the crucial wicket and the rest would be easy.
At the beginning of the day the tourists' bowling surge continued as Australia were dismissed for 150, their lowest completed innings since 93 in a dead rubber against India in 2004. They lost their final two wickets in the first 27 balls of the morning, adding 13 valuable runs to their overnight advantage of 345.
Bravo's three wickets had kept his side in the game on the third day and he collected 4 for 42, finishing the innings with Hauritz's edge to slip. West Indies arrived with most predictions of a cleansweep but they have ruffled the hosts since they were battered in Brisbane. They had a chance in the morning but by stumps they needed a miracle.