January 4, 2001

Basic errors haunt tourists again

How many times have basic mistakes cost West Indies dearly in this series? Whatever the total by now, another two clearly need adding to it after an absorbing third day's play of the Fifth Test against Australia here at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A dropped catch and a misguided decision to shoulder arms have left the tourists in massive trouble again today and not even a more determined look about their play nor the comparatively very respectable second innings scoreline of 1/98 by stumps implies that the task of averting a series whitewash will now be anything less than formidable.

By the end of the day, Wavell Hinds (46) and Sherwin Campbell (45*) had travelled some distance toward cancelling out their side's 180 run first innings deficit. But Hinds' effort in leaving alone a Glenn McGrath (1/26) delivery - which became the very last delivery of the day - and watching it crash into his off stump presents his team with the prospect of another massive struggle for survival tomorrow. Still eighty-two runs behind overall, and with only nine wickets in tact, it shapes as a difficult equation at the very least.

Before Hinds' fatal error, full marks should have been awarded to each of the West Indian openers. Not least because of their achievement in going within a whisker of registering successive century partnerships but also because, in the sort of grim position from which the tourists have stumbled so badly so many times already this summer, they at least forced a temporary reappraisal of exactly how easily an Australian win might be achieved in this match.

They weathered a difficult half hour against spinners Stuart MacGill (0/26) and Colin Miller (0/22) deep into the final session. But they believed in their ability, trusted their instincts and resisted the Australians' best efforts to disrupt their concentration with aggressive and rapidly changing field settings. If anything, their batting also helped to suggest that the pitch showed fewer signs of yielding to spin than might have been expected. There had certainly been little in the way of devil in the bowling of West Indian slow men Mahendra Nagamootoo (3/119), Jimmy Adams (0/54) and Marlon Samuels (0/37) earlier in the day. And, late in the afternoon, even MacGill and Miller seemed less effective. With lower bounce came less turn.

Yet the tourists were always fighting from behind. To a large degree, this was because their bowling and, more particularly, one horrible mistake in their fielding had let them down badly. Fifteen minutes into the day, came its most crucial moment. And also its turning point.

After Ricky Ponting (51) had been defeated by a delivery of full length from paceman Colin Stuart (2/81) to be trapped lbw, wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist (87) appeared at the crease. He received a wide, short ball outside off stump and he pushed, somewhat strangely for him, nervously at it. It flew at just above head height and marginally to Adams' left in the gully. The chance was dropped; the tourists' hopes of preventing the Australians' lead swelling to close to unmanageable proportions were all but dashed.

"Lucky! I don't know what happened there. Very very happy that it slipped through," conceded Gilchrist after play.

"When something like that happens, and you're lucky to get a second chance, I guess you do consciously go through it in the mind ... you really work hard and really focus."

Offered the reprieve, Gilchrist typically exploded into action. The Australian wicketkeeper-batsman produced a magnificent flurry and array of attacking shots. Several crashing square cuts stood out, there were powerful cover drives as well, and also one amazing shot off Nagamootoo's bowling that added six to his total once it had slammed into the sightscreen behind the bowler's arm.

That captain Steve Waugh (103) was quietly plodding toward a twenty-fourth Test century all the while only added to the West Indians' predicament. Their problems were also compounded when inspirational fast bowler Courtney Walsh (1/74) was forced to leave the field forty-five minutes before lunch after failing to completely overcome the effects of an ankle injury that he sustained in his first over of the day.

Waugh eventually fell in rather bizarre style when he attempted to leave alone a Nagamootoo leg break pitching outside the line of leg stump. The result, as the ball spun more ferociously than at virtually any other time of the day, was the unusual sight of the delivery catching his front pad and deflecting off it back into his stumps. Gilchrist, for his part, was then removed shortly after lunch when he failed to steer a full Stuart outswinger any wider than Brian Lara at first slip.

But the West Indian attack looked weary by this point and the extent to which their spirits had flagged was underscored by the compilation of a forty-two run stand for the last wicket between the belligerent blue-haired Miller (37*) and an unusually assured McGrath (13).

Two glorious sixes over the leg side, one from a pull and the other a slog-sweep, were the highlights of Miller's innings and he also flayed a succession of shots into the off side. It was a knock never short on entertainment. For his part, McGrath also enjoyed himself; it was a measure of the state of the match and the series, in fact, that he contemptuously clouted successive Nagamootoo deliveries high over the mid wicket region early in his stay.

Australian captain Steve Waugh showed some daring in throwing off spinner Miller the new ball when the West Indian second innings began twenty minutes before tea. But it wasn't until the scoreboard clock read 5:59pm that the potentially fateful first dismissal finally came.