Men in Maroon tickled pink: Windies show grit with true Test batting after top-order collapse to keep Aussies at bay
Day one of the Gabba Test was supposed to be a Windies carve-up. The day was but the night belonged to the tourists as they showed a rarely seen steely resolve to bounce back against Australia.
After five wickets fell in the opening session, it looked like the new-look Australian opening pair of Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja would be heading to the wicket before the lights came on for the pink-ball Test.
But an impressive 159-run sixth-wicket partnership from second-gamer Kavem Hodge (71) and wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva (79) turned the momentum back their way and by stumps the Windies were likely still under par at 8-266 but nowhere near the disaster it could have been.
Da Silva and Hodge showed the kind of application that the West Indies’ batting unit has been sadly lacking for many years.
Hodge, a 30-year-old from the Windward Islands, has earned his crack at Test cricket after doing the hard yards on the domestic scene for more than a decade and despite averaging under 29 in 56 previous first-class matches, he looks like a player that the rebuilding team can rely upon.
In the opening session, the gulf in class between the world champions and the eighth-ranked tourists seemed as big as the distance between the Gabba and the Caribbean.
But the stark turnaround was as different as night and day.
Mitchell Starc wreaked havoc during the afternoon session as more than 23,000 fans turning up, the highest attendance for the opening day of a Gabba Test against the Windies.
With the curator trimming the green-tinged pitch back, Windies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite was happy to bat first when he won the toss as the visitors tried to restore their reputation after they were thrashed by 10 wickets inside the seventh session of last week’s series opener in Adelaide.
But he was the first player back in the pavilion after an eventful 25-ball innings in which he avoided being sent on his way twice by video review before he edged Josh Hazlewood through to Alex Carey’s gloves on four.
First drop Kirk McKenzie played a poor shot with no footwork outside off stump to Pat Cummins which just evaded his outside edge. He did not learn from his error, repeating his recklessness the very next ball to snick off to Khawaja at first slip to sell his wicket cheaply for 21.
Tagenarine Chanderpaul was Starc’s first victim when he guided a straightforward chance to Smith at second slip before the left-armer found the edge of Alick Athanaze’s bat on eight to reach his milestone of 350 Test wickets.
Starc snared Justin Greaves for six with Khawaja taking a low catch to have the Windies 5-64 by the end of the first session.
The 33-year-old 87-Test veteran is closing in on Dennis Lillee (355) for fourth spot on Australia’s all-time wicket-takers list but will not reel in the top trio of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Nathan Lyon.
Da Silva and Hodge managed to stem the bleeding with resolute knocks and while they didn’t play many attacking shots, they played Test cricket.
Hodge was caught out twice in the cordon on the drive in Adelaide but he was more circumspect this time around as the duo put on 81 runs to get to the tea break at 5-145.
Da Silva struggled last year in Australia and again in the first Test last week but he surged to his highest score Down Under and both players brought up their half-century milestones early in the third session.
All-rounder Cameron Green dropped a diving one-handed chance in the gully at full stretch when Hodge was on 59 off Starc.
Green caught something else altogether earlier in the week, testing positive to COVID-19. He had to field away from teammates and congratulate their wickets from afar while coach Andrew McDonald was quarantined away from the other support staff for the same reason.
Da Silva’s 157-ball vigil ended when he played all around a Nathan Lyon off break from around the wicket just three overs before the second new ball was due.
Sinclair was called in to make his debut ahead of Gudakesh Motie, who was ineffective in Adelaide, received a baptism of fire on debut with Lyon and part-timer Travis Head quickly surrendering the ball to Starc and Hazlewood for the final burst before stumps.
The world-class duo had the ball hooping around and Sinclair, who opens for Guyana, dug in but unfortunately for the underdogs, Hodge fell victim to the new pill.
He played across the line to an in-swinger but only succeeded in edging the 179th ball he faced to Smith’s safe mitts at second slip.
Sinclair and Alzarri Joseph added an entertaining (for them) and frustrating for the Aussies (and their fans) partnership of 41 before Hazlewood struck in the final over before the close of play.
Joseph’s breezy 32 from 22 ended when he prodded at Hazlewood with Smith pouching his third catch.
Sinclair (16) and the remaining tailenders will resume on day two with the hope of stretching the Windies total as high as possible before trying to get the pink ball moving around to unsettle the Australian batters.