| The tail of a jumbo jet dwarfs Steve Waugh and Brad Hogg during Australia’s nets session in St John’s, Antigua, Wednesday. (Reuters)
St John’s: Australia have dominated the West Indies, but skipper Steve Waugh doesn’t want to ease the foot off the pedal in pursuit of an historic Caribbean series clean sweep in the fourth Test starting here Friday.
It’s been a one-sided contest thus far with the Australians notching up wins by nine wickets, 118 runs and nine wickets in three Tests on unforgiving flat pitches and the odds are they will make it four here.
Records tumble for this outstanding Australian team and there’s another in the offing at the Recreation Ground.
Victory here, Australia’s 10th in succession against the West Indies, and they will become the first touring side in 73 years of cricket in the Caribbean to sweep a series 4-0.
Victory would also take Waugh — who made a world record 157th appearance in the first Test and became the first Australian to score 30 Test centuries in the third — past Clive Lloyd’s record of 36 victories as captain.
But before they take the field, Waugh — who needs one more victory to be the most successful captain in Test history — will remind his players about the team’s dead-rubber curse.
Australia have won 15 of their last 17 Tests, but the matches they have dropped were the final Tests against South Africa in Durban last year and England in Sydney in January after they had dominated the opening matches of those series.
“I’ve just got a feeling it won’t happen this time. I don’t know why, it’s just a gut feeling,” Waugh said Thursday. “I reckon we’ll be full on for this Test match.”
Another factor which could work against Australia is the exacting workload on the bowlers in the last Test at Bridgetown.
The Australians spent a total of almost 245 overs or around 18 hours in the field after Waugh enforced the follow-on when the West Indies trailed by 277 runs on the first innings.
Both teams have had only three days to back up from the last Test, and physically the Australian bowlers will be the ones feeling the pinch, should they have to field first in Antigua.
“We raised the bar a little bit (in Barbados),” Waugh said. “Every ball we kept going forward and we kept believing.
“There’s been other Test matches in the past where it’s got hard and we’ve dropped off a little bit, but this is the first time that we’ve kept going every ball. We’ve raised the bar ourselves to another notch, and now we know what we can do and what we should do, and I don’t think we’ll let ourselves down in this last Test match.”
Vice-captain Ricky Ponting has been under the weather with a viral infection this week, but is expected to play.
Selectors are expected to retain the same five-man bowling attack which played in Barbados unless they opt for wrist-spinner Brad Hogg instead of paceman Andrew Bichel.
Waugh fears that if the West Indies bat first in Antigua on another lifeless strip, they may aim to bat Australia out of the match.
“It makes it harder, because they can set themselves on that type of pitch,” Waugh said. “If there’s something in the pitch and you say you’re playing for the draw it’s going to be a lot harder.
“All three wins have come the hard way. To take 60 wickets on those pitches has been a tremendous effort really, and probably a bit undervalued and underestimated.”
The West Indies have named an unchanged squad as they try to avoid their first whitewash at home.
Captain Brian Lara believes selectors have the right mix of players despite the relative youth and inexperience of the team.
“The experienced players have been tried and tested and a lot of them have come up short,” Lara said. “I don’t see any need to go back there. ‘These guys are very good players and are on the verge of breaking through and making a name for themselves.
“I’m quite happy with the look of the team, I’m quite happy with the way we’re performing up to a certain level. We’re playing against the best team in the world and I just want the standard to keep at that level.”
Wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs may come into the XI if he recovers from a groin muscle injury to play on his home ground at the expense of young Carlton Baugh.
Australia (likely): Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Bichel, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Stuart MacGill, Glenn McGrath.
West Indies (from): Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Daren Ganga, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carlton Baugh, Ridley Jacobs, Omari Banks, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon, Jermaine Lawson, Tino Best.
Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng), S. Venkataraghavan (Ind).