Australia eked out 174 for 6 from their 90 overs on the first day and advanced to a challenging 269 before they were all out 25 minutes after lunch. Their two fast bowlers, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath, neither with any great batting credentials, tilted the psychological balance with an utterly frustrating last-wicket partnership of 66, the highest of the entire innings.
On a pitch and outfield made distinctly sluggish by the unusual rains of recent weeks, and particularly Thursday's downpours, all the batsmen have had to gather their runs by graft. The four West Indies fast bowlers compounded matters with their direct, full-length control to work overtime for their wickets and, in the end, could not deliver the quick knockout punch to the last pair.
Once Australia had included both leg-spinners, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, in their side, their new captain, Steve Waugh, had no option but to bat on winning the toss, even though conditions here traditionally become progressively easier for batting.
In both Tests here last year, the winning second-innings totals were the highest of the match, but neither England nor the West Indies possessed anyone who spun the ball half as viciously as Warne and MacGill. They will ask entirely different questions of the batsmen to Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and their two young supporters, Merv Dillon and the left- arm newcomer Pedro Collins.
Once more, the perennial over-30s, Ambrose and Walsh, carried the West Indies attack. The 36-year-old Walsh was to the fore on the first day, attaining his cherished goal of 400 wickets in his 107th Test, with half of the six wickets.
It was Ambrose's turn yesterday morning. The gangling Antiguan went undeservedly wicketless for 19 overs on the first day, repeatedly passing uncertain edges in an impressive opening spell. He had to wait only half-hour for his luck to change, Warne slapping a square-cut hard but straight to Sherwin Campbell at point. He struck again with the first two balls following the first refreshment break after an hour's play.
He first won umpire Eddie Nichol's clearcut lbw verdict against Greg Blewett and then penetrated MacGill's hesitant forward defensive prod to hit the off-stump. Blewett, emulating the left-handed opener Matthew Elliott's front foot method of the previous day that brought him 44 runs over four and three-quarter hours, passed 50 for the 11th time in Tests. His 58 occupied just over four hours and required 182 balls, statistics that accurately reflected the nature of the conditions.
Australia were 203 for nine following Ambrose's double-strike 55 minutes before lunch and the West Indies would have anticipated a modest score at which to aim for a batting order significantly depleted by the absence of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with a damaged shoulder, and Carl Hooper, still away in Australia at the bedside of his seriously ill infant son.
Gillespie and McGrath, by dint of straight-batted common sense, blocked, edged and occasionally drove the West Indies to distraction as they gave themselves valuable runs in the bank.
The continuing success of Walsh and Ambrose presents the West Indies with an uncomfortable dilemma. Both have hinted they have no thoughts of retirement just yet, an understandable sentiment for long-serving professionals who still enjoy the game and do very well out of cricket financially.
But their presence is blocking the way of the clutch of promising contenders who must eventually replace them.
No place could be found in this team for Nixon McLean, the fastest of the lot, or Reon King, who preceded the Test with an impressive five-wicket return against the Australians for the President's XI.Reuse content