Travis Head’s brilliance at short leg has helped Australia claw their way back into the Second Test with his run-out of Kavem Hodge turning the match midway through day three.
Hodge clipped a Nathan Lyon delivery off his pads but Head intercepted it and flicked it onto the stumps as the Windies batter tried to dive back to make his ground.
The replay showed Hodge’s bat was in the air as he scrambled hom when Head’s sharp fielding hit the stumps.
Head already has drawn comparisons to the legendary David Boon with a similar stocky build, droopy moustache and match-winning batting and now we can add exemplary bat-pad work to the list of similarities.
He reeled off a stunning catch in the same position to dismiss Windies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite in the first Test at Adelaide.
Head’s run-out of Hodge for 29 ended his steady 74-ball vigil which frustrated the Aussies in the energy-sapping heat at the Gabba.
Joshua da Silva, who like Hodge was a thorn in Australia’s side in the first innings, departed a short time later when he was caught on the second grab by Cameron Green in the gully for seven off Mitchell Starc.
His dismissal left the Windies six down with 157 on the board, an overall lead of 179 and needing the tail to wag again to put a formidable victory target in front of Australia.
They added five more runs by the tea break to hold a lead of 206 heading into the final session on Saturday.
Fifteen losses and five winless Test tours of Australia have come since a Brian Lara century and Curtly Ambrose’s seven wickets led to a 10-wicket victory in Perth’s fifth Test in February 1997.
Mark Taylor’s men won that series 3-2 against a side also featuring Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Courtney Walsh, Carl Hooper, Ian Bishop and Jimmy Adams.
This side is without a host of their more seasoned campaigners and features two second-gamers, a debutant and Chanderpaul’s son.
“That is the head reason why we are so tuned in, because we haven’t won in such a long time,” veteran quick Kemar Roach said after day two.
“To win a Test match in Australia as a young side with a lot of debutants and guys who have played less than 10 Test matches, I think that would set a great mark for us.
“It is a young group and the guys are energetic. They want to play Test cricket and do well against the No.1 team in the world.”
In the Gabba’s first pink-ball Test in 2016 Pakistan made 450 in their pursuit of a record 490.
“I don’t think you can put a figure on it,” keeper Alex Carey said of what Australia could chase down.
“There are going to be opportunities for batters to get in and I don’t see signs of that wicket breaking up too much.
“We know the threat of the first 20 overs and the new ball threat.
“Get through that and there is potential to score a big target.
“There should be an opportunity for our batters to dig in. Hopefully, it is not a big target but if it is it will be great to see our batters go about it.”
Smith shells second catch before making amends
It’s rare that Steve Smith drops one catch let alone two in a row.
After grassing a straightforward chance on Friday night at second slip, Smith put down a sharp chance off Alick Athanaza when the Windies batter was on 28 on day three.
Smith dived in front of Usman Khawaja who was at first slip but his spectacular one-handed grab didn’t come off even though his teammate probably would have snaffled it.
“Khawaja had that covered behind him as well but you can’t fault Smith for going for it,” said former Australia captain Ricky Ponting on Seven commentary. “It’s one of those ones in the slips, if you see it and it’s to your dominant hand, you’ve got to go.”
Another legendary slips fielder, Mark Waugh, on Fox Cricket thought Smith and the cordon were too close together and that caused confusion.
“That’s first slip’s catch,” he said. “They’re too tight. He should be another metre to his left, Steve Smith, and there woulnd’t have been any doubt. He would have known that was Khawaja’s catch.”
Athanaze only added seven more runs before he was dismissed by Nathan Lyon, with the easy catch taken this time around by Smith.
The 34-year-old Aussie vice-captain snared an athletic catch over his head at second slip to dismiss Alzarri Joseph for a duck in the final session to bring his success rate up to 50% for the innings.
Warner solution not an open-and-shut case for Australia
Steve Smith and Cameron Green fell cheaply for the second time in two Tests since the experiment to replace the retired long-time opener David Warner began.
How to approach life after David Warner remains a question unanswered for Australia’s Test team, but they’re confident Steve Smith “will find a way” after the opening experiment failed again at the Gabba.
Smith was out lbw for six in the first over of Australia’s reply to West Indies’ 311 on Friday’s second day of the Brisbane Test.
Promoted to open after David Warner’s retirement in Sydney, Smith managed 12 in his first effort in Adelaide and was unbeaten on 11 in the second dig as Australia posted a 10-wicket win.
Adding to the issue was another failure for Cameron Green (eight), who was slotted back into the side at No.4 as part of the Smith reshuffle.
The former Test captain’s averaged less than 32 this summer and boasts a highest score of just 50 in five Tests against Pakistan and West Indies, his lowest total in any given summer of a career spanning 14 years.
Smith was exposed, moving dramatically across his crease, Brian Lara picking apart his technique on Fox Sports and an aware Kemar Roach able to exploit it when he nipped the ball back to catch Smith’s pad in line with the stumps.
“His body’s going towards point, his bat is going towards mid-wicket and the ball is crashing into middle stump,” Lara said.
“He’s giving himself little or no chance to make good contact with the ball.”
But Australian teammate Carey said the team and Smith himself had “no concerns at all”.
“He has been dismissed twice as an opener now and he is going to be dismissed a lot more as an opener,” Carey said.
“He is one of the best batters in the world and he will find a way to score big hundreds.
“He has done it in really difficult situations before … a big innings is coming up and hopefully it is in the second innings.”
Green was out meekly chipping a catch to mid-off, Australia falling to 5-54 before rallying to declare just 22 shy of the visitor’s score.
That followed a score of 11 in his only innings in Adelaide, with Green now averaging less than 20 since a maiden Test century in India last March in a run that saw him replaced in the side by fellow allrounder Mitchell Marsh during last year’s Ashes.
Selectors resisted a recall for any of specialist openers Matt Renshaw, Cameron Bancroft or Marcus Harris, despite all presenting strong cases for another chance at the top of the order.
Batting will get no easier for Australia, who have two Tests in New Zealand to follow the home summer, before India visit later this year.