On a damp day, grim defence is mixed with pace and spin

With water added, the product will go further. That may be a familiar story to patrons of the Sydney Cricket Ground's beverage concessions, but at least the rain did not dilute the flavour of Sunday's play. Spin, pace, grim defence and six-hitting all had their moments, and, to toss in the unexpected, brilliant catches were taken by Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns. While not the most memorable day's play, Sunday offered something for every taste: a day of Test cricket.

Over by careful over, the West Indian batting leaders continued to narrow the gap. Their hardest workers were once again Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo. If this top order will be remembered for anything, it will be for their sound defence, and there's the first surprise. The West Indians of Hobart would have been all out by stumps. The West Indians of Melbourne and Sydney have discovered, and proven through repetition, that survival is the first step on the competitive path.

Gone: Jason Holder is caught by Joe Burns on the opening day.
Gone: Jason Holder is caught by Joe Burns on the opening day. Photo: Getty Images

Brathwaite, using a Gray-Nicolls that looks like he's been sleeping with it since his Barbados boyhood, has been a doughty customer in all three Test matches. 

His ungainly, loose-wristed address is a mask for a clear mind. His bat wavers around in the crook of his elbow, but he brings it down late and soft. On the most bowler-friendly wicket of the summer, he played to the limits of his ability in keeping out some potent Australian pace and spin bowling. Bravo, the more finished article, came at the task from a different direction, restraining his urges to the confines of seniority, letting off steam with some expansive cover-drives but otherwise building another responsible innings.

Playing defensively, the West Indians have been a match for the Australian bowling. It is once they try to go on the attack that they have stumbled. Thus, the key partnership broke when Bravo attempted to hook the kind of James Pattinson bumper than he had been successfully dodging. 

These are the horns of the dilemma on which the young visitors find themselves: when, precisely, is defence enough? When is the right time to start forcing the pace, if forcing the pace is what is getting them out?


Australia's cricket found its rhythm during the middle part of the day, when Pattinson hit top velocity and Nathan Lyon managed to control the turn and bounce that he seldom gets on Australian wickets. There's something of Uriah Heep in Lyon, almost too humble to accept so much help. Lyon has made his name from extracting subtle variations of bounce and flight on pitches that are normally a graveyard for finger-spinners. Here, the surface gripped and turned from his introduction in the eighth over. How could he handle such luxury, such prominence? Like the swagman who would rather sleep on stony ground than a warm bed, he looked like he didn't need quite so much. The late-afternoon scalp of Jason Holder was Lyon's 100th in Australia, at a counter-instinctively superior average and strike rate to his overseas record. He is one of the best dead-track bowlers Australia has produced.

By the time Bravo was gone, the lights were on but Marlon Samuels was not at home. Frustrated, or possibly unhinged, by the pressure from Lyon and Pattinson, the Jamaican pushed a ball to point and set off like a lemming for the nearest cliff. Brathwaite went through the illusions we are all suffering with Samuels. Thinking his partner was an experienced international batsman, Brathwaite responded to the call. Then, realising that Samuels is not as advertised, Brathwaite dropped his bat and fled for the other end. Samuels left gesticulating as if it was someone else's fault.

As rain kept blowing in from the south-east, Brathwaite kept rebooting with different partners. He lost Jermaine Blackwood, a talented player whose footwork is all at sea against Lyon, but then began to rebuild with Denesh Ramdin. A century loomed, but for the second time since Christmas, Brathwaite fell while attempting the transition from defence to attack, cutting against Lyon's spin. 

He deserves that century. Still, his solidity on this tour has confirmed that it's not their countrymen in the BBL that the West Indies are missing, but Shiv Chanderpaul back in Guyana, someone who can show the youngsters that there is no time limit on attrition.

Steve O'Keefe knows how to wait, although, having sat through a lifetime of watching SCG Test matches, he started off as if in a hurry to be somewhere else, barely finishing each delivery before back-pedalling to his mark. Once he got out of the Twenty20 can-can, he settled well, and earned a reward when a close chance finally stuck to Burns. That was a surprise, too, but by then the game was beginning to take on a familiar savour.