On a day when Pat Cummins could captain but could not bowl, his longtime bowling colleagues came to his aid to work through a West Indies team that remained stubborn to the end.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon was the major wicket-taker with six for 128 on a pitch that started to take turn, but that did not reflect the consistent quality of Josh Hazlewood’s work across the match, or the persistent threat that Mitchell Starc supplied, as Australia eventually bowled out West Indies for 333 to win the first Test in Perth by 164 runs.
With West Indies starting the day three wickets down and aiming to bat three sessions for a draw, it was Lyon who made sure that Australia never had to deal with getting anxious. He had already removed Jermaine Blackwood via short leg the previous evening, and followed up with Kyle Mayers the next morning. The West Indies all-rounder had already laced a couple of fours from Starc, but Lyon lured him on to the front foot once too often and drew an edge to slip.
He followed up with an even more important wicket, the captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, on 114, again deceiving a player with length to get him playing off the back foot when he should have been forward, missing a ball that spun hard into his stumps.
The two strikes meant that it really was only a matter of time for Australia, even though they had to be patient to get there. Cameron Green and part-time spinner Travis Head got a bowl to support the frontline options, and it was a rank wide delivery from Head that had Jason Holder hurling the bat, providing an edge that beat Alex Carey behind the stumps but not Steve Smith for a third slip catch, diving inside his line behind the keeper for an outrageous take.
Carey’s counterpart Joshua de Silva gave Hazlewood some reward, ill-advisedly punching off the back foot without regard for Perth’s bounce, feeding a catch to the cordon.
That made the score 233 for seven before lunch, but spin all-rounder Roston Chase and fast bowler Alzarri Joseph at least ensured that West Indies got close to tea. Joseph hit Lyon over the fence three times in a counterattacking hand of 43, while Chase played his circumspect supporter, gradually collecting a half century for himself that contained only two fours and a six. The pair added 82 approaching drinks in the second session, and at the rate they were scoring, a further 183 to win the match was not entirely beyond possibility.
It was finished off by Head, who drifted a ball tantalisingly towards Joseph that skipped on straight and kissed the outside of the off-stump. Chase played a rare attacking shot at Lyon on 55 and miscued it towards deep midwicket, where Mitchell Starc ran in to take a fine catch diving forward.
West Indies were about to be beaten, but had shown plenty of fight to avoid being battered, recovering from poor bowling performances with determined batting. The injured Kemar Roach gamely walked out at No 11, but was foxed in the air by Lyon and bowled first ball, the ninth time that Lyon has taken six or more in an innings.
It meant 446 career wickets for Lyon, who is now eighth on the all-time list after ducking past Dale Steyn and his great rival Ravichandran Ashwin. The game with Ashwin will resume when Australia tours India this coming February, and over a busy nine months coming up Lyon is a chance to reach 500.
It was also a 22nd Test match together for the quartet of Lyon, Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood, an unprecedented era of stability. The precariousness of a bowling existence is underlined by Cummins’ injury though, as he directed traffic while hobbling about the field. There is every chance that Scott Boland will be playing the second Test in Adelaide.