All eyes on the weather as Australia target a summer sweep

West Indies

Big Picture: Australia look to make it 5-0

Pat Cummins is viewing the 2023-24 season as a seven-Test summer with an eye on the two matches coming up in New Zealand, but their home portion will draw to a close in Brisbane this week. It may sound harsh, but the biggest obstacle to them completing a 5-0 sweep could well be the weather.

It remains a somewhat uncertain picture, but there is now an increasing amount of rain forecast over the weekend, although even the loss of a day or more of playing time wouldn’t rule out the prospect of a result. The first Test in Adelaide barely reached the third day (none of the three against Pakistan needed a fifth day) and the records Australia’s bowlers possess with the pink ball suggest West Indies batters will be up against it again.

The other factor in play is that should the weather become a major factor, it would leave Australia at risk of dropping crucial World Test Championship [WTC] points if the match was to be a draw. Of course, you don’t want to rule out the visitors, but they would need to play out of their skins to force a win.

That being said, midway through the second day of the Adelaide Test, West Indies were keeping themselves in touch, in no small part due to the efforts of debutants Shamar Joseph and Justin Greaves. At 168 for 6, Australia were still behind before Travis Head – who has recovered from Covid-19 – turned the game with an increasingly belligerent century.
The concern for West Indies is how they can put together enough runs. Kirk McKenzie showed promise, but they need more from captain Kraigg Brathwaite and a resurgence from Tagenarine Chanderpaul.

It’s all relative, but the batting is the area under a little bit of a spotlight for Australia with just two centuries in four Tests so far this season. They have, ultimately, made enough runs to win – and often comfortably – but Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are on the brink of completing a home season without a Test century between them.

Australia WWWWL (last five matches, most recent first)
West Indies LDLLL

In the spotlight: Marnus Labuschagne and Alzarri Joseph

Marnus Labuschagne has had no problem scoring runs against the pink ball: he averages 73.83 in day-night Tests. His second innings against Pakistan in Sydney was as good as he had looked for some time, but then he fell to a top-edged hook against Shamar Joseph in Adelaide. Since becoming a fixture in the Test side he has not failed to score a century in a home summer. He also averages 81.50 on his home turf at the Gabba.
As the new vice-captain and a senior member of a young team, Alzarri Joseph needs to stand up for West Indies. He did not bowl poorly in Adelaide, but a first-innings return of 1 for 55 was below what his team needed. It was hoped that his maiden five-wicket haul in South Africa would prove a breakthrough moment but his last three Tests have produced two wickets. And like his new-ball partner Kemar Roach, Australia is proving a tough place for him with an average of 55.33 from three outings.

Team news: Aus unchanged, WI may ponder a bowling switch

Head has tested negative for Covid-19 so is clear to play without restrictions, but Cameron Green may be under protocols having returned a positive test on Wednesday. If he remains positive he will use a separate changing room. Head coach Andrew McDonald also tested positive. If needed, he will sit away from the rest of the squad on game day.

Australia 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Steven Smith, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Cameron Green, 5 Travis Head, 6 Mitchell Marsh 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins (capt), 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood

West Indies may ponder a change to their spin department. Offspinner Kevin Sinclair, who would offer more batting, could replace Gudakesh Motie. An all-pace attack is another option.

West Indies (possible) 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), 2 Tagenarine Chanderpaul, 3 Kirk McKenzie, 4 Alick Athanaze, 5 Kavem Hodge, 6 Justin Greaves, 7 Joshua Da Silva (wk), 8 Alzarri Joseph, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Gudakesh Motie/Kevin Sinclair, 11 Shamar Joseph

The pitch retained a green tinge the day before the game, but certainly not as much as last season’s two-day contest against South Africa. The forecast for the opening day is good, but the threat of rain increases after that and could be significant over the weekend. The day-night element adds intrigue, with Steven Smith referencing the Pakistan Test in 2016-17 when the visitors nearly chased 490.

Stats and trivia: Starc two shy of 350

“It should be good. They are a pretty good attack with some good bowlers. Pink ball when it’s nipping around might suit them like it does for our bowlers. It is always a challenge batting under lights when the ball is new. It is always difficult.”
Steven Smith on the day-night Test

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