At stumps on day three Australia were 248 for 5, with Michael Hussey on 47 and Matthew Wade on 19, and while they had almost passed the follow-on mark they were not yet safe in the match.
The big challenge for West Indies remained finding a way to turn their impressive performance into a victory. Rain again played a part on the third afternoon and their task for the final two days was to run through Australia’s lower order quickly, bat again and set the visitors a target, and then skittle them a second time. The way this match has unfolded so far, that looked like it would be easier said than done.
But through Sammy and his colleagues West Indies had at least put themselves in the much stronger position. Last time the two sides met in a Caribbean Test series, the hosts had several days of inspired cricket but were unable to string together enough in one match to take a victory from Australia. This time they had started with two encouraging days, and worked through the third in the same fashion.
Michael Clarke provided Australia with a fighting half-century but threw his wicket away, while Shane Watson and David Warner also failed to capitalise on solid starts. Watson was also accountable for the ugly run-out of Ricky Ponting, a calamitous confusion that left Ponting fuming as he walked off the field.
The pair had come together after Sammy removed both openers in almost identical fashion, pitching the ball on off stump and nipping it away from the left-handers Warner and Ed Cowan. Cowan was on 14 when his thin edge found the wicketkeeper and Warner had made a promising start and had 42 when he edged to second slip, and Sammy’s accuracy and persistence was impressive.
Those strikes were followed by the run-out of Ponting for 4 when Watson turned the ball behind square leg and took a single, and then called for the second, hesitated, and called Ponting through again. The throw from the deep to the wicketkeeper’s end found a confused Ponting out of his ground as Watson loitered halfway down the pitch and Ponting’s frustration was evident.
Watson was nearly involved in another run-out later when Clarke was saved only by a wayward throw. That, together with poor use of the review system, were the only real blemishes that could be attached to the West Indies fielding effort. Twice Watson survived lbw appeals that could easily have gone against him, once when he offered no shot to a prodigious inswinger from Sammy, who asked for a review and saw the replays show a perilously close prediction that had the ball hitting off stump, but only in the “umpire’s call” zone.
In the next over, Kemar Roach appealed for lbw against Watson and also received a not-out verdict. This time Sammy decided against asking for a review but replays showed the ball would have struck enough of leg stump to have the decision overturned. West Indies wasted their second review after lunch when Sammy was off the ground and the vice-captain Kirk Edwards asked for the third umpire to check another Roach lbw appeal that was clearly sliding down leg.
But those errors of judgment didn’t prove too costly. Watson threw his wicket away in the first over after lunch when he flashed impetuously at Roach and was caught behind for 39. It was hardly the innings Australia needed from Watson in his first Test batting at No.3. Clarke and Michael Hussey led a fightback with an 82-run partnership and they had to work hard against Bishoo, whose variations kept them from scoring freely.
Clarke used his feet against the legspinner and lofted him straight down the ground for six, but otherwise the Australians typically waited for poor balls from Bishoo and did the best they could to keep the good ones out. Clarke brought up his half-century from his 121st delivery with a fine cover-driven boundary from the part-time offspin of Narsingh Deonarine, and he was fortunate to have got there after a contentious review when he was on 27.
Clarke was adjudged caught behind off a Bishoo ball that stayed low and he immediately challenged the out decision from the umpire Tony Hill. Replays did not clearly show that he hit the ball but nor did there seem to be overwhelming evidence to overturn the call, but that was what happened and it was a serious let-off for Clarke.
Eventually, Bishoo had his reward when Clarke tried to clear long-off but succeeded only in skying a catch, and it was an unwise shot selection at a time when Clarke and Hussey needed to continue building their partnership. Hussey was more watchful and by stumps was approaching a half-century, and Wade struggled against Bishoo with a packed close-in field, but he was good enough to put away the bad balls when they came.
Bishoo’s challenge on the fourth day will be to run through the tail, although with the new ball due Sammy will first turn to his fast men to do that job. And if they can manage it, victory will be a possibility, although a draw remains the more likely outcome.