Australia is seven wickets away from retaining the Frank Worrell Trophy in Perth, but West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite isn’t backing down without a fight.
The West Indies were set an imposing target of 498 on Saturday after Australia declared at 2/182 during the lunch break, giving themselves five sessions to muster the 10 wickets required for victory.
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Earlier, Marnus Labuschagne made history by becoming just the third Australian to score a double-century and a century in the same Test match, finishing unbeaten in the second innings on 104.
Brathwaite and West Indies debutant Tagenarine Chanderpaul combined for a 116-run opening partnership to frustrate the Australians, who were without skipper Pat Cummins due to a quad complaint.
But Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon each struck in the evening session to leave the West Indies in a spot of bother at 3/192 at stumps, still trailing by 306 runs.
Brathwaite is unbeaten on 101, his 11th Test century, with Kyle Mayers at the other end yet to score.
JOSEPH UNEARTHS MARNUS BLUEPRINT
Marnus Labuschagne’s Saturday got off to a painful start, with his first delivery of the morning striking him flush on the gloves.
The Australian No. 3 was noticeably rattled by Alzarri Joseph’s well-directed short ball, repeatedly taking off his glove and examining his fingers.
It kickstarted the most entertaining 45 minutes of the Test match.
Joseph repeatedly peppered Labuschagne with bouncers, challenging the right-hander with a flurry of deliveries under the armpit.
In the 16th over, Labuschagne attempted to pull the West Indies quick through mid-wicket, but a top edge flew over the slip cordon and the boundary rope for six.
Joseph got his man the following delivery — Labuschagne edged a short delivery into his helmet, with the ball ricocheting towards Shamarh Brooks at gully.
But as the West Indies started celebrating the crucial breakthrough, umpire Richard Illingworth extended his right arm, signalling a no-ball — Joseph had overstepped by less than a millimetre.
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Joseph finished the match with figures of 0/125, unjust numbers considering he was the West Indies’ best bowler in the second innings.
But the 26-year-old’s explosive spell creates a blueprint for how the West Indies — and South Africa — should bowl to Labuschagne for the rest of the Test summer.
“He got roughed up nicely by Alzarri Joseph,” former Australian batter Michael Hussey told foxsports.com.au.
“He even admitted afterwards the beans were running, and it took him a while to compose himself after that.
“I’m not sure teams will use it as Plan A – normally you’d try and get him out normal ways, caught behind, bowled … but certainly as a backup plan, or if he gets in, it’s worth definitely giving it a go.”
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WINDIES’ CASUALTY WARD IS OVERFLOWING
The West Indies are the walking wounded at the moment.
After spending nearly 190 overs in the field, the visitors are nursing several injury concerns that could force changes to their starting XI ahead of the second Test in Adelaide.
Moments before the drinks break on Saturday morning, West Indies paceman Kemar Roach limped off the field with a thigh complaint. The 34-year-old was later sent for scans on his left posterior thigh.
“It’s not a good sign because he is a bit of a rock in this West Indies attack,” former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith said on Fox Cricket commentary.
“He is the experience. He’s pulled up lame.”
Earlier, the West Indies camp confirmed that all-rounder Kyle Mayers would not be able to bowl in the second innings due to his right teres major muscle.
Mayers was arguably the side’s best bowler on the first day of the Perth Test, removing Australian opener Usman Khawaja for 65 with an absolute peach.
On Friday, West Indies No. 3 Nkrumah Bonner was forced to retire hurt on 16 after copping a nasty blow to the head off Cameron Green, later replaced in the starting XI by concussion substitute Shamarh Brooks.
Even before the Perth Test started, the West Indies were suffering casualties — Raymon Reifer was ruled out of the two-match series after the all-rounder picked up a groin injury.
Needless to say, it’s been a busy few days for the West Indies medical team.
“They’d be very concerned,” Hussey said.
“I don’t know the extent of those injuries — you’d hope they could recover in time.
“I don’t know what they are going to do.
“The physios are going to have to work overtime to try and get them right for the next Test.
“I don’t know if they’ve got time to fly out some replacements – it’s a long way from the West Indies.”
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AUSSIE GAME PLAN THROWN OUT THE WINDOW
The loss of Pat Cummins undeniably hurt Australia on Saturday afternoon, with the hosts forced to hunt for 10 wickets without their captain and most successful Test bowler.
The Aussies needed some of their part-timers to step up in the fourth innings to fill the void — enter Marnus Labuschagne.
Labuschagne was thrown the Kookaburra in the 27th over, and a roar of delight echoed around Perth Stadium when the centurion lined up to bowl medium pace.
Sheffield Shield fans would be all too familiar with the Queenslander’s seamers, but rarely has Labuschagne whipped out the alternate bowling style on the Test arena.
Labuschagne bowled two overs before the tea interval, conceding nine runs including three no-balls.
The 28-year-old at one stage floored West Indies opener Tagenarine Chanderpaul with a 127.9km/h bouncer that was expertly evaded.
Labuschagne’s spell delighted cricket fans, but former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith was less than amused.
“This is so totally out of the game plan for Australia,” he said on Fox Cricket.
“From what they were thinking last night when they left the field in that position of such surety … it was not at all what they forecast their game plan to be today.”
Former England bowler Isa Guha continued: “As much as it’s been a surprise for Australia, it has also been for the West Indies, and maybe it’s just offered them a lifeline.”
TIME FOR LYON TO SILENCE HIS DOUBTERS
The Perth Test is set up beautifully for Nathan Lyon to spin Australia to victory — something he has struggled to do consistently over the past couple of years.
The New South Welshman removed West Indies concussion substitute Shamarh Brooks in the 42nd over of the run chase, finding the outside edge with Steve Smith taking a low catch at first slip.
Lyon thought he had snared another breakthrough a couple of deliveries later, but the review for caught behind on Jermaine Blackwood was unsuccessful.
He later broke a 58-run partnership between West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite and Jermaine Blackwood, removing the latter courtesy of an excellent catch from Labuschagne at short leg.
Since the unforgettable Headingley Ashes Test in 2019, Australia has repeatedly failed to get the job done on day five after finding themselves in a commanding position.
It happened twice against India two summers ago, when Lyon and his pace comrades couldn’t take 10 wickets in the fourth innings at Sydney and Brisbane, subsequently losing the coveted Border-Gavaskar Trophy in dramatic circumstances.
During the Ashes last summer, Australia only mustered 19 wickets in the SCG New Year’s Test, with England securing an unlikely draw from the jaws of defeat.
And then in Karachi earlier this year, Pakistan survived more than 171 overs in the fourth innings of the second Test, losing just seven wickets to escape with a draw and keep the Benaud-Qadir Trophy alive ahead of the series finale.
Lyon featured in all of those matches. A fifth-day Test wicket should be a spin bowler’s paradise, but Australia’s premier tweaker was unable to steer his team to victory on each occasion.
The 35-year-old, of course, is responsible for countless Australian triumphs in the Test arena — Adelaide 2015, Edgbaston 2019 and Lahore 2022 spring to mind.
But Lyon, currently with figures of 2/54 from 22 overs in Perth, has the perfect opportunity to silence any lingering doubters on Sunday.
GREEN STEPS UP IN CUMMINS’ ABSENCE
Australia is immensely lucky to have Cameron Green in its starting XI.
The loss of captain Pat Cummins should have been a massive blow for the hosts on Saturday, but it allowed the young all-rounder to prove his worth as a third seam option.
Green almost mustered a crucial breakthrough for the Australians after the tea break as the partnership between West Indies openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Tagenarine Chanderpaul extended beyond triple figures.
The 23-year-old’s bouncer was top-edged down towards deep fine leg, but a diving Mitchell Starc couldn’t hold onto the tough chance near the boundary rope.
Green sunk to his knees and slapped the turf, visibly irate. He beat the outside edge a couple of deliveries later.
“We don’t normally see that type of emotion from him,” Hussey said.
“He’s normally very reserved, but it just shows how much it means to him and he really wants to make an impact.
“And it shows there’s a bit of tension in the Australian dressing rooms.”
Green wasn’t required with the bat in Perth this week, but he’ll be determined to make an impact with the Kookaburra on day five.
“I think he’d like the extra responsibility,” Hussey continued.
“It’s not ideal when you lose a bowler throughout a Test match – it does mean more of a workload for everyone else.
“But it’s a great opportunity for him to come in. He normally won’t get a lot of overs.
“I think he’ll love it.”