PERTH: Australia need just seven wickets to claim victory in the first Test, but defiant West Indian skipper Kraigg Braithwaite stands in their way heading into the final day. With his team down and almost out as Australia set the visitors an improbable 497 for victory in Perth, Braithwaite (101*) stepped up for the fight.
The opener survived a tense session after lunch with debutant Tagenarine Chanderpaul, frustrating an Australian attack that took the field without injured skipper Pat Cummins due to a quad complaint.
“This has been fantastic for the West Indies,” Fox Cricket’s Michael Hussey said of the second session. “I think the Australians would have been cock-a-hoop at lunch time, declared, they were thinking: ‘Let’s blast the West Indies away here, get a couple of early ones, put them under pressure’ but this opening pair – they are made of some serious stuff.
“Great defence, great temperament. They just wear the bowling down – it’s brilliant to watch.” Brathwaite then brought up his first ever Test century against Australia minutes out from stumps in jubilant scenes.
Aussie all rounder Cameron Green had tried to step up in Cummins’ absence after lunch, and could have had Chanderpaul for 42 – but he was dropped by Mitchell Starc. The Aussies didn’t have to wait long for Starc’s redemption after he got through Chanderpaul’s defences three runs later.
“They hatched a plan the Australians and they reap the reward immediately,” Fox Cricket’s Adam Gilchrist said. “It’s been a wonderful start to his Test career … but the Australians can regather and refocus. He couldn’t rein in that little aggressive streak he does possess.”
Medical sub Shamarh Brooks, who came into the match after Nkrumah Bonner was concussed while batting in the first innings, could only manage 11 before Nathan Lyon drew the edge. Lyon took the last wicket just before stumps with Jermaine Blackwood (24) brilliant dismissed by a one-handed catch by Marnus Labuschagne and short leg.
Josh Hazlewood was unlucky not to get on the scorecard, after he clipped the bails but they failed to dislodge and he had an LBW decision overturned on review. The paceman beat the edge repeatedly but couldn’t nab a wicket before the end of play.
“He’s in the middle of an outstanding spell, but he just hasn’t got the rewards just yet,” Hussey lamented. “On another day, he could have picked up two or three really quickly. “It’s crazy how this game works sometimes – you can bowl beautifully and get no reward and other days you don’t bowl very well at all and you pick up wickets for fun.”
In good signs for Australia, Cummins was able to return to the field late in the day but not eligible to bowl given the time he spent in the dugout. Whether he is able to bowl on Sunday remains to be determined.
Braithwaite (101*) and Kyle Mayers (0*) guided the visitors to stumps but still face another full day to bat to save the Test match. The West Indies have injury concerns of their own, with Kemar Roach, Kyle Mayers and Jayden Seales all restricted – with Roach even heading for scans on Saturday after pulling up lame.
Earlier on Saturday it was Marnus Labuschagne who stole the show with his ninth Test ton – as he became only the eighth Test batsman in history to reach a century off a double ton in the same match.
The star batsman, who is yet to play at Perth Stadium without raising his bat in four innings, was gifted a life on 19 when caught off a no ball. West Indian Alzarri Joseph thought he had his man after a brilliant early spell, when Labuschagne top edged into his helmet as the ball ballooned to the slips. But replays showed no part of Joseph’s foot behind the line at point of impact in devastating scenes for the visitors.