Thirteen wickets made for an eventful opening day of the series in Dominica, and it was Australia who went to stumps in the slightly stronger position. Denesh Ramdin gave his men the chance to bat first but they survived only two sessions for their 148 before Australia played out the final session of the day and went to stumps on 85 for 3, trailing by 63 on a surface that had proven surprisingly challenging.
Steven Smith was Australia’s rock during the home summer against India and again he appeared immovable, although he also found scoring difficult with variable bounce and a slow outfield. He ended the day on 17 from 67 deliveries and had not scored a boundary; debutant Adam Voges had struck four fours in his 20 from 27 balls, perhaps the positive result of nervous energy.
David Warner had fallen early for 8 when he was surprised by extra bounce from a Jerome Taylor delivery and a leading edge was taken at point. Shaun Marsh, promoted to open in the absence of Chris Rogers, edged to slip off Jason Holder for 19, and Michael Clarke edged Devendra Bishoo behind after scoring a bright 18 off 28 balls, including one six over midwicket.
Voges was gifted a low full toss second ball to get off the mark with a boundary in Test cricket and by the time stumps arrived he had made a solid start. The Australians were generally careful in their 30 overs at the crease after the West Indies batsmen struggled to come to grips with the conditions and were skittled inside 54 overs.
Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson collected three wickets each and it did not take long for the Australians to get back into five-day mode, having not played a Test since early January. The catching especially was outstanding, with Clarke, Voges and Marsh all making sharp takes of varying degrees of difficulty that ensured their bowlers were backed up.
West Indies went to lunch three wickets down but things quickly deteriorated further upon the resumption, when Shane Dowrich, Jermaine Blackwood and Marlon Samuels all fell within a four-over period. Ramdin and Holder put up some sort of fight but it seemed only a matter of time until Australia finished the job.
The batting conditions were not as easy as Ramdin might have expected when he won the toss, with the odd ball staying low and two batsmen – Darren Bravo and Taylor – struck on the helmet by quick, accurate bouncers. Nathan Lyon also extracted more than a little bit of turn, and combined with an outfield the speed of a wet golf green it made life challenging for the batsmen.
Still, they didn’t put up much resistance, with no partnership lasting 10 overs. Hazlewood made the first breakthrough when he moved a delivery away just enough to kiss the outside edge of Kraigg Brathwaite’s bat and Brad Haddin completed a simple catch to have Brathwaite for 10.
Shai Hope was able to strike five boundaries and his driving through the off side was most impressive, and Bravo also threatened to cause some problems with a typically classy start. Their 40-run stand was the best of the innings, but it ended when Lyon came around the wicket to Bravo, who on 19 edged and was brilliantly taken by Clarke low to his left at slip.
Hope fell for 36 off 54 balls when he tried to drive Johnson and his thick edge was superbly taken by a diving Marsh at gully. West Indies were 75 for 3 and it was the sort of situation in which the Australians would have been pleased not to see Shivnarine Chanderpaul walking out to bat.
Dowrich managed 15 before he dragged on off Hazlewood, and in Hazlewood’s next over he added the wicket of Blackwood for 2 when a thick edge was taken by Clarke, moving across from second slip in front of Shane Watson at first. In the next over, West Indies lost the last of their top six when Samuels miscued a hook off Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood at fine leg took a well-judged catch.
Ramdin and Holder tried to reassemble things but Johnson ended that idea when he bowled Ramdin for 19, the ball staying disconcertingly low for the first day of a Test. When Holder edged Starc to Marsh at gully for 21, the end seemed nigh, and the next wicket brought the score to 144 for 9 and allowed an extension of the session past the scheduled tea time.
That ninth wicket came from arguably the best of the catches, when debutant Adam Voges ran back from midwicket with the flight of the ball, dived and clung on to get rid of Taylor for 6. A change to the part-time legspin of Smith had done the trick, even if Smith’s wicket came with what could only be described as a long-hop.
Shannon Gabriel, one of Test cricket’s genuine No.11s, was then no match for Johnson, and edged to slip for 2 to complete a miserable start to the series for the home side. By stumps Australia were more than halfway to West Indies’ total, but as day one showed, things can happen quickly on this surface even if scoring does not. It was worth remembering that West Indies had been 85 for 3, too.