Australia's batsmen struggle against spin
Top scorer ... David Warner scored 50. Photo: AFP
RICKY PONTING claimed another major milestone but Australia face a major battle to preserve their series lead after their batsmen were bamboozled by Shane Shillingford in the third Test against the West Indies on Monday.
West Indies captain Darren Sammy dismisses Australian batsman Michael Hussey. Photo: AFP
Shillingford prised out four wickets on a spin-friendly pitch, leaving Australia - for the third time in as many matches - relying on their tail to give them a competitive first-innings total.
The Australians, who won the toss, will resume on the second day precariously placed on 7-212, desperately needing Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc to add significantly to their 43-run stand.
And the tourists' situation could so easily have been far worse had the Windies held on to all their chances in the field.
Destroyer ... Shane Shillingford. Photo: AFP
Most costly of the two reprieves was that handed to David Warner, who made an ungainly but vital 50 after Darren Sammy dropped a sitter when the opener was on five.
After a dour arm-wrestle during the first two sessions, the Windies made their move in the hour after tea when Shillingford unseated the holy trinity of Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey in Australia's middle order.
It was just reward for a spinner who, with his sharp bounce and turn, posed a constant and menacing threat to the gloves of Australia's batsmen.
Crucial runs ... Mitchell Starc stayed with Matthew Wade. Photo: AP
He bowled an epic 24-over spell during the afternoon, broken only by tea, which turned the match in the Windies' favour.
The drama started shortly after Ponting registered his 13,289th Test run to move past Rahul Dravid into second place, behind only Sachin Tendulkar, on the all-time run-scorer's list.
Ponting, though not finding runs easy to come by, was proving hard to dislodge. But such is the nature of this Windsor Park wicket no batsman will find themselves ever at ease no matter how long they have been in the middle.
Australian batsman David Warner battled for 136 balls to reach 50 before holing out off Shillingford. Photo: AFP
He had added 37 with Clarke, whose fingers will be ginger after taking a pounding from Shillingford.
Upon reaching 23, Ponting lunged forward to Shillingford, offering Sammy an easy chance at leg slip. It continued a lean series for the former captain, however his runs would be worth double on a more forgiving pitch.
Clarke, uncharacteristically for a player so adept against spin, was all at sea against Shillingford, and it was only a matter of time before he fell victim to the Dominican tweaker.
He survived near misses on five and six but his luck expired on 24 when he used his feet to the spinner but was undone by Shillingford's extra bounce and well caught low at short leg by Adrian Barath.
Hussey, so often Australia's saviour in times of crises, could not rescue his team out of this hole. He was also unhinged by a spitting off-break, which clipped his glove and found a diving Sammy at first slip.
The Australians were under pressure from the second over when Ed Cowan shouldered arms to Ravi Rampaul and was out lbw for one.
Warner and Watson, aided by some shoddy fielding from the hosts, added 83 for the second wicket but at no time were the normally fluent strokemakers in control.
Watson ground away for more than two-and-a-half hours to reach 41 before a costly lapse in concentration resulted in a rash pull shot off Sammy which picked out one of two men placed in the deep for that shot.
The all-rounder had been dropped six runs earlier by Kraigg Brathwaite, who reacted too late to a chance in close off Shillingford.