Anyone wondering just how fearsome the West Indies pace attacks of yesteryear could be need only ask Dean Jones for his recollections.
The former international star made his Test debut during the 1984 Caribbean tour and had to deal with an attack spearheaded by Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner.
When he returned in 1991, the bustling Marshall was still a force to be reckoned with but the new faces of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were providing fresh nightmares for Australia’s batsmen.
And although a cricket tour to the Caribbean sounds like one of the most pleasant sporting experiences possible, for a 20-year period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, a trip to the West Indies would have been far from the top of any international batsman’s wish list.
It was during these heady days the West Indies were at their best, combining calypso flair with the bat and intimidating pace and bounce with the ball to produce winning series after winning series.
Through greats like Marshall, Garner, Ambrose, Walsh, Michael Holding and Colin Croft, the Windies were feared throughout the cricket world.
There wasn’t a team in international circles that could expect to regularly get the better of the famed four-man pace attack – no matter its makeup.
While there’s every chance members of the great West Indies teams will be watching on in earnest during Australia’s VB Tour of West Indies, it will be the visiting quicks that hope to do most of the intimidating this time around.
Coming off a summer where they consistently brought India’s vaunted batting line-up to its knees, Australia’s own pace battery is young, fit and firing – and will be expected to dominate the Windies’ unheralded batting list.
Through the emergence of Victorian duo Peter Siddle and James Pattinson, the reinvigoration of Ben Hilfenhaus, natural ability of the fit-again Ryan Harris and raw talent of Mitchell Starc, Australian selectors are faced with an enviable situation.
They can pick each Test team on form, fitness and, to a certain extent, on a horses-for-courses basis. Three specialist quicks or four? That extra seam-up option or a spinner?
With Shane Watson likely to be back in the Test fold there’s added flexibility at the selection table that allows this kind of tinkering.
These are nice problems for Michael Clarke & Co. to face.
Caribbean conditions will be foreign to the relatively inexperienced bowling group, none of the five quicks mentioned above having toured as part of Australia’s last trip in 2008.
But with Craig McDermott as bowling coach, the Aussie quicks will be taking advice from someone in the know with regards to Caribbean conditions and tactics.
McDermott chalked up 24 scalps during the 1991 Test series at an impressive average of 23.50 and is sure to continue having the positive influence credited with helping Australia’s attack turn an important corner during recent series against India and New Zealand.
Pattinson and Siddle in particular benefitted from McDermott’s tutelage, both taking bags of wickets thanks to a fuller length and disciplined line – hallmarks of McDermott’s 71-Test career.
The 21-year-old Pattinson is expected to overcome a strained left-buttock in time for the three-Test series and if he finds anything like the form that saw him torment New Zealand and India during the Australian summer, he will continue to develop his burgeoning reputation.
While he may not quite strike fear into the hearts of batsmen the same way Croft and Holding did during the late ‘70s, Pattinson is a similar beast – tall, athletic and aggressive – and has made an instant impact on the Test scene.
He has 25-wickets from just four Tests, racking up two five-wicket hauls and all at an average of just over 18 runs per scalp – exciting numbers in anyone’s book.
Starc is the other real youngster expected to take his place in the Windies but hasn’t yet made the same kind of impact as the Victorian.
But given his height and powerful left-arm action, Starc may take encouragement from the performance of Brendon Julian during the 1995 Caribbean tour.
Julian created an awkward angle and steepling bounce to help Australia to an historic series victory over a West Indies side that was by then almost exclusively reliant on Ambrose and Walsh for wickets.
In 2012, it is even less clear where the Windies will turn for the 20-wickets required to win a Test match.
A general decline in Caribbean cricket, combined with internal wrangling and the lure of cash-rich T20 tournaments, means the home side lacks the genuinely impressive, attacking bowlers of yore.
A lack of depth is the key issue – another area Australia is less concerned by given the first-class production line provided by the Bupa Sheffield Shield.
Should Pattinson not come up, or should injury beset any of the other likely campaigners, selectors may just opt to blood another bolter based on stand-out Bupa Sheffield Shield performances.
Tasmanian rookie Jackson Bird has taken 48 wickets in just seven first-class outings, finishing the Shield season two scalps ahead of Western Australia’s Michael Hogan, and while it would be a genuine surprise to hear either name read as part of Australia’s Test squad, they’d be close to the mark if one of the incumbents were ruled out during the course of the series.
First published at cricket.com.au
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