Wickets were few and far between early on a batting-friendly wicket, but a combination of determination and consistency was enough to get Australia over the line at Optus Stadium, Perth, against a spirited West Indian line-up in the first Test of the Australian summer. Day Five heroics from Nathan Lyon and Travis Head was enough to steer the Aussies to a 164-run win in Perth.
It was a match dominated by batters as Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite combined to score 51 per cent of the total runs over the five days. Bowlers found it tough early but were rewarded for effort over the later days.
The Australian bowling quartet showed once again why they’re the best in the world and one of the best to ever do it, while we also saw the return of one of cricket’s elite bloodlines.
As we kick off the 2022/23 summer of cricket, here are the top six talking points to come out of the first Test at Optus Stadium.
The return of Chanderpaul
In one of the more touching cricketing moments of late, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, son of West Indian legend Shivnarine, made his international debut for the West Indies. Presented with his cap on Wednesday morning by West Indian great Brian Lara, he became the 330th man to play for the West Indies on the back of his ton against the Prime Minister’s XI.
Chanderpaul was made to stand in the field for a day and a half before getting his chance with the bat, and he certainly made the most of it, attacking the Australian bowlers early and playing the game on his own terms. His early aggression saw him reach his maiden Test half-century at almost a run a ball, while also combining with skipper Kraigg Brathwaite to achieve the first 100+ Test partnership by visitors since Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen in 2012.
The 26-year-old’s maiden Test was full of sentimental links to his father. Both players made half-centuries in their first Test innings’ and scored 96 runs in total for the match. In Shivnarine’s last Test in Australia, he was dismissed by Mitchell Starc, who also bowled Tagenarine in the second innings.
The West Indies have struggled to find a consistent partner for Brathwaite at the top of the order, with the veteran having scored the last 11 centuries by West Indian openers. The pair became the first visiting openers to have 75+ run stands in both innings of a Test match in Australia since 2001.
Good signs in his debut mean the search may be over at least until Brathwaite’s retirement over the coming years.
The Steve Smith of old
Steve Smith himself said it best during the ODI against England, “I’m back baby.”
And back he most certainly is, with a slight adjustment to his technique making him more still and balanced through his stroke, after struggling throughout the last summer. He was well and truly back to his best albeit against an average West Indian attack.
On Wednesday afternoon, he drew level with Sir Don Bradman with 29 Test centuries, the equal fourth most for Australia. He’s also the third fastest to reach the mark, doing it in 155 innings’, with the untouchable Bradman (79) and Sachin Tendulkar (148) in front of him.
The dominance continued on Day Two, with the visitors barely getting a chance at taking Smith’s wicket as he reached 200. With the West Indies without answers, an asterisk was added to a textbook Steve Smith batting performance as Travis Head’s dismissal on 99 the very next ball triggered Australia’s declaration at 4-598. Smith’s fourth career double-ton came in just 311 deliveries, and in the process, he arguably re-announced himself as one of the modern greats.
The comprehensive innings put a full stop on his supposed Test ‘slump’ post-2019 Ashes, despite still scoring 1188 runs at an average of 42.42 in those three years.
Australian bowling quartet the best to ever do it
Late on Thursday afternoon, Pat Cummins dismissed Kraigg Brathwaite for 64 to bring up his 200th career Test wicket. In doing so, Australia became the first team to have four bowlers with 200+ Test wickets in the same team.
As the numbers would have it, the combination of Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc are better than the great Australian attack of the 2000s, the Englishmen of 2005, and the fearsome West Indian line-ups of the 80s.
Cummins is the fastest to hit the 200 mark, and equal eighth-fastest ever in just his 44th Test, whereas Starc (50th), Hazlewood (52nd) and Lyon (55th) all struggled to play consistent cricket early in their careers.
In 22 Tests together, they’ve combined for 357 wickets at a staggering average of 27.93 and on home soil, they’ve only been beaten on four occasions out of 17.
Their dominance lies in the fact they have all surfaces and conditions covered when playing alongside one another. Lyon has been the standout over their last few Tests, taking 30 wickets in his last five.
That includes an innings loss to Sri Lanka where he only managed two wickets in the first innings. His form leading into the India tour has been phenomenal, taking 19 wickets in his last four second innings.
Marnus Labuschagne joins elite company
Marnus Labuschagne dominated Day One of the Test, cashing in on some missed chances as he cruised his way to his eighth career century and finished the day on 154. He continued his onslaught on Day Two, using the first session to reach his second double-ton on home soil.
After being dismissed on 200, he strode to the middle in the second innings with a point to prove. Looking for quick runs to declare, he was striking the ball as if he’d never left the field, rocketing past 50 and bringing up his second hundred of the Test and ninth in his career.
Cummins declared soon after and Labuschagne was welcomed back to the sheds on 104 not out, becoming just the eighth man in history to score 200 and 100 in the same Test match. He also boosted his average runs in a single Test match up to 59.31, the fourth highest ever for players who have played 50 innings or more.
Labuschagne has 22 scores of 50 or more in his first 50 innings, which is more than Bradman, Smith, Ponting and Warner. He continues to be a threatening batter on home soil, as evidenced by his fine form in the first Test, averaging 67.46 in Australia, second only to Bradman.
Cummins’ injury blow opens the door for Ashes hero
Australian captain Pat Cummins suffered a quad injury during the first innings that saw him severely limited in his movements during the second. He abstained from bowling but said if the match was closer he could’ve brought himself on.
Cricket Australia has said it’s a serious worry and his availability for the next Test will be determined by scans that will show the severity of the problem. It’s looking incredibly likely he’ll miss the Adelaide Test for a second year in a row.
While the potential of the skipper missing the second Test is less than ideal, replacements have already been selected, with veteran Michael Neser and WA speedster Lance Morris added to the Test squad.
Neser took 3-61 at Adelaide oval last year on Test debut at an economy of 2.5 and could be a chance at a recall, with his bowling style appearing to suit the pink ball well. While Morris has been described as the quickest young bowler in the country who’ll get good experience from being in the squad, it is unlikely he’ll play.
The most likely to play in Cummins’ absence is last year’s Ashes hero Scott Boland, who memorably took 6/7 at the MCG to win Australia the Boxing Day Test match. He singled himself out as the fourth-best seamer in the country and would be deserving of the spot in Adelaide.
The Windies unexpected heroes
Coming into the Test series, the expectations of the West Indies side was that they would be a tough bowling side for the Australians to crack, but their batting could be their downfall. The first Test was a complete reversal of these expectations.
It may have been the batter-friendly pitch at Optus Stadium, but the Australian batters had no issues with the West Indian bowlers. They often bowled the wrong lines or misinterpreted the bounce as they missed their length.
It was their batters who showed heart, guided by the opening pair of Chanderpaul and Brathwaite who 31 per cent of the visitors’ runs in the match. They had four scores of 50+ as well as two 40s, and it’s this gutsy display of temperament that will hold them in good stead on the trip to Adelaide.
If they can find better performances from the middle order, the next Test has the potential to be a much more even meeting of the two nations.
The next Test starts on Thursday on Adelaide Oval, which is now synonymous with the Day-Night Test and the pink ball. It’s a form that Australia have specialised in over the years and looms as a potential worry for the West Indies.