This should not have been a close match. It was, in fact, almost a match that refused to be close. After three days and two hours, the West Indies seemed to be in an unassailable position. After three days and four hours, a draw seemed like the most likely bet. About thirty minutes after that, Australia seemed like strong favourites. But these transitions happened very quickly and at almost no point before the fifth day did it seem like the result was in the balance. It was not until the West Indies dug in on the fifth morning and rain delayed the restart after an already delayed lunch that the match seemed close. In the end, Australia won for two main reasons: 1) the West Indies folded under a very small amount of pressure and 2) Darren Sammy was tactically poor in the field in both innings.
We saw the second part of that in Australia’s first innings. Australia were at one point 285-8, 164 runs behind and in danger of putting themselves in a position from which they would struggle to even draw the match. Sammy did not properly attack the tail-enders though. Even before the eighth wicket he had Bishoo on against Harris where he leaked runs. Afterward he not only kept Bishoo on for too long, he kept the field back and let the batsmen get well set. Edwards was bowling dangerously, but could not get through and it was not long before the West Indies simply appeared to be bowling to middle order batsmen. They had actually looked like they were waiting for the new ball when Clarke declared. (It was, as it turned out a very clever declaration, although it was pointed out that it came at a time when Harris was only five runs short of the top-score in the innings. A top-score which just happened to belong to an MJ Clarke…) Sammy did the same in the second innings as well. His field settings then seemed to be random; there were constantly easy singles on offer. To compound that, he also kept a spinner on for long enough to almost lose the game in the penultimate over. It was a stage in the game in which the quicks had to be bowling and why they weren’t is something Sammy will have to ask himself as he mulls over this defeat.
Clarke’s declaration led to the second reason why Australia won: the West Indies collapse. Remember that the West Indies still had a first innings lead, even if it was over 100 runs smaller than it ought to have been. It was only a short while before tea on the fourth day and they should have been able to bat until at least the next afternoon and secure a draw rather comfortably. But instead they seemed under pressure. Their failure with the ball meant that they had to bat at least passably well in the second innings, instead of only trying for some quick runs and a declaration. The first wicket fell to a good ball, but it was clearly the pressure that got Brathwaite. He edged a ball that he did well to even reach. First slip had been shaping to possibly take it before the batsman had even played the shot. In the end, it was taken by the ‘keeper, though halfway between him and slip on an almost impossibly fine edge. (Incidentally, the umpire was not going to give it out, but Brathwaite walked. It was a terrible shot, but good on him for doing the right thing and going off.) The fear of not having enough runs then became a self-justifying one. It is a familiar story for the West Indies and unfortunately for them creates almost a positive feedback loop: previous collapses put pressure on the batsmen to not fail again and that pressure causes them to fail. Repeat in next Test.
That next Test is on Sunday. I said in my preview that I thought the West Indies’ best chance to steal a Test was in the first one. I think that’s still true, especially after this demoralising defeat. Neither side could claim to have played particularly well in this match and there is nothing in the skill on display to suggest that the West Indies could not bounce back, but they have yet another mental scar now. They remain a side with the talent to win a Test, and not only in this series, but they simply seem unable to find it within themselves. Part of it is poor leadership and part is self-inflicted pressure, but I don’t see either problem going away before the next Test. Australia to win again, I think.