Attack now up to speed
Michael Clarke with the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy. Photo: AFP
AUSTRALIA'S bowlers copped a pounding from England and then Don Argus last year but their achievements since have created great optimism they can wrest back the urn from the old enemy.
They are yet to earn worldwide respect, particularly in the Caribbean and not just from past players, but they have performed with enough distinction to force Argus' panel to withdraw several comments if it was to conduct another post-mortem.
The Argus report, released last August, was damning of all aspects of the Australian team, but labelled the bowlers' performances against the leading teams as ''substandard''.
It said Australia had ''not found replacement bowlers anywhere near the calibre of [Glenn] McGrath and [Shane] Warne, or indeed an attack that can take 20 wickets consistently''.
Australia may never again find any bowlers as potent as that pair but the squad mentality adopted by selectors towards the pacemen has already improved the fast-bowling depth.
Australia had taken 20 wickets in just two of its nine Tests leading up to the Argus report ''with typically only one or two bowlers bearing a benchmark of 30 runs per wicket''.
The picture now is a lot brighter. Australia has dismissed teams twice in nine of its past 14 Tests and seven bowlers - Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Shane Watson - satisfied Argus' benchmark.
Furthermore, Siddle and Hilfenhaus - the scapegoats from the last Ashes failure and also part of the loss in 2009 - are now both ranked in the world's top 10 bowlers, whereas only Mitchell Johnson was in this elite club at the start of Australia's 2011-12 Test campaign.
''I think we have a wonderful group of fast bowlers. Now the key is to try and get better,'' skipper Michael Clarke said. ''And I think if we can keep all the boys improving we can compete against any team in the world in any conditions.
''I think our squad and our attack continues to improve so that's a really positive sign for us.''
No bowler has developed more quickly than Lyon, whose performance on his first tour to the Caribbean - 13 wickets at 26 - underlined his reputation for being a fast learner.
Despite the lack of a long apprenticeship in the first-class scene, the off-spinner seldom produces two bad days in a row.
This was highlighted in the Windies' fourth-innings run chase when he rebounded from a fruitless day four and some wild hitting from the tail to grab three wickets.
''Yes, the wicket was spinning and there was a bit of bounce but that doesn't guarantee you're going to have success,'' Clarke said.
''He'll continue to learn from there but I think he's bowled really well throughout this series. He's had a really good series and played a really big part in us winning.''
Australia's 2-0 series win has taken it up a rung to third on the world rankings, behind England and South Africa, but Clarke said his team was still ''a way off'' being No. 1. ''It's not just about one series or one summer, it's about consistency over a period of time that gets you to No. 1 team in the world,'' Clarke said.
''I still think we have a lot of work to do before we can consider ourselves the No. 1 Test team in the world but we know that's the goal that we're chasing, that's for sure.''
Although Australia did not make drastic changes until after it was humbled by New Zealand in Hobart, it was the catastrophic match in Cape Town, where it was skittled for 47, that sowed the seeds for Australia's revitalisation, Clarke said.
Australia does not play a Test this winter but has one-day international missions against England and Pakistan abroad before the Twenty20 World Cup leading into home Test series against South Africa and Sri Lanka.
''There are some tired legs sitting in that change room right now, mentally as well as physically, but it's been the dedication, the will to try to get better to take this team to a new level that has seen us have success,'' said Clarke, one of several players now bound for the Indian Premier League.
''We've played against India who are a wonderful Test team with a lot of very good players, we've played in conditions here that not many guys are accustomed to against a fighting West Indian team and manage not just to play well but we've won six out of seven Test matches so that's something we should be very proud of.''
Australia (1st innings) 328
West Indies (1st innings) 218
Australia (2nd Innings - overnight 6-200)
D WARNER c Chanderpaul b Roach 11
E COWAN c Sammy b Deonarine 55
S WATSON c Sammy b Shillingford 5
R PONTING c Chanderpaul b Roach 57
M CLARKE c Bravo b Shillingford 25
M HUSSEY c Sammy b Shillingford 32
M WADE lbw b Deonarine 4
R HARRIS c Baugh b Deonarine 9
M STARC b Roach 21
B HILFENHAUS c Brathwaite b Shillingford 6
N LYON not out 12
Sundries (10b, 7lb, 1w, 4nb) 22
Fall of wickets:17 (Warner), 25 (Watson), 112 (Cowan), 168 (Ponting), 171 (Clarke), 196 (Wade), 220 (Hussey), 230 (Harris), 237 (Hilfenhaus), 259 (Starc)
Bowling: R Rampaul 9-1-37-0, K Roach 13-2-40-3 (1w 4nb), S Shillingford 39-7-100-4, D Sammy 10-4-20-0, N Deonarine 14-1-45-3
West Indies (2nd Innings)
A BARATH c Cowan b Hilfenhaus 0
K BRATHWAITE lbw b Clarke 14
K POWELL b Clarke 24
DM BRAVO c Wade b Watson 45
S CHANDERPAUL lbw b Clarke 69
N DEONARINE c and b Clarke 13
C BAUGH c Ponting b Lyon 12
D SAMMY c Hilfenhaus b Lyon 61
K ROACH c Clarke b Lyon 2
R RAMPAUL c Warner b Clarke 11
S SHILLINGFORD not out 31
Sundries (3b, 9lb) 14
Fall of wickets: 0 (Barath), 28 (Brathwaite), 45 (Powell), 155 (Bravo), 173 (Chanderpaul), 180 (Deonarine), 206 (Baugh), 234 (Roach), 245 (Rampaul), 294 (Sammy)
Bowling: B Hilfenhaus 13-5-23-1, M Starc 9-2-26-0, N Lyon 29.3-6-87-3, R Harris 12-2-34-0, M Clarke 23-1-86-5, S Watson 9-2-20-1, D Warner 1-0-6-0.
Result: Australia won by 75 runs
Man of the match: Matthew Wade
Man of the series: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
Series: Australia won three-Test series 2-0 and retains Sir Frank Worrell Trophy.
HOW THE AUSTRALIANS FARED IN THE WEST INDIES
MATTHEW WADE 8
The 24-year-old wicketkeeper took his chance at Test level with both hands. Solid in the first two Tests, Wade’s maiden Test ton in the final game was a match-winner.
MICHAEL HUSSEY 7.5
Another consistent series. Hussey didn’t shine as brightly as in past series but with runs at a premium he still scored 219 to be Australia’s top scorer.
NATHAN LYON 7.5
Struggled in the first Test but bounced back well to claim a five-wicket haul in Trinidad. Ended with 13 wickets for the series to be Australia’s top wicket-taker.
BEN HILFENHAUS 7.5
Another quietly efficient performance by the indefatigable Tasmanian. Constantly troubled Windies top order with new ball and set up the Barbados win with a three-wicket spell in 15 minutes. Ended with 10 wickets at 20.80.
RYAN HARRIS 7
Man of the match in the first Test when his first half-century at this level enabled Australia to get back into the game.
MICHAEL CLARKE 7
Not his best series with the bat, scoring 188 runs in the three games at 31.33 but captaincy was exceptional. Declaration in first Test set up victory. Claimed a five-for in final Test to bowl Australia to victory.
DAVID WARNER 6.5
Low and slow pitches with turn didn’t suit Warner’s explosive batting style and he admitted to struggling with conditions. Proved a handy option with his part-time leg-spin.
SHANE WATSON 6.5
Solid if unspectacular in all three matches. Bowling was tidy but lacked penetration.
ED COWAN 6
Made several starts but is still searching for the big score that would end speculation over his spot in the Test team. Fielding was excellent, but he still needs that hundred sooner rather than later.
RICKY PONTING 6
Top-scored in Australia’s last two second innings but luck wasn’t on his side in first Test. Speculation over Ponting’s place in the team will continue, perhaps unfairly, due to his age.
MITCHELL STARC 6
Played the last Test after injuries to Peter Siddle and James Pattinson. Did OK with the ball and played a vital role with the bat in the first innings alongside Matthew Wade.
MICHAEL BEER 5.5
Played in Trinidad and did OK. Limited opportunities and was overshadowed by Lyon’s five-wicket haul in the rain-marred second Test.
PETER SIDDLE 5
The Victorian bowled better than his numbers suggested in the first Test but in the end his was a disappointing trip to the Caribbean, being sent home with a back injury.
JAMES PATTINSON 4.5
Returned to the team for the second game and struggled to find his line and length. Tweaked his back in the field and was sent home.