December 18, 2000

Australians on brink of Third Test victory

Can Australia make thirty-two more runs or will West Indies snatch a victory by taking the remaining six wickets? That is the burning question with one day to play in the third Ansett Australia Test match here in Adelaide in the battle for Sir Frank Worrell's Trophy.

At close of play, Australia is at 4/98 with Justin Langer on 43 and Damien Martyn on 18 following what has proven to be another exciting day's cricket in this match.

Australia has to be favoured to make its way over the line, but with a rejuvenated Courtney Walsh (2/28) and a relatively new ball still in hand, two quick wickets could see the game turn West Indies' way.

Set 130 to clinch the series, the Australians have had some scary moments, losing Michael Slater (1) in Mervyn Dillon's first over and then Matthew Hayden (14) five overs later to Walsh. The second of those two wickets required the assistance of third umpire Daryl Harper as an underedged drive found its way low to wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs. Harper had three looks at the catch before rightly deciding that Hayden should go. TV assistance was hardly needed five runs later as Mark Waugh (5) snicked another Dillon (2/22) delivery and suddenly West Indies was right in the hunt at 3/ 27.

It didn't stop there either; after a further twenty-one were added, Ricky Ponting (11) was trapped in front to give Walsh his 490th wicket in Tests. It took numerous replays to show that Ponting got an edge first, but to the naked eye of Steve Davis it looked plumb and the appeal was upheld accordingly.

The two West Australians, Langer and Martyn, were joined amid the tension and worked the ball around well. Both played and missed at times but they showed considerable grit against bowling which rose to the occasion.

Walsh, who looked tired on what was a hot day, gave plenty for his captain Jimmy Adams. Surprisingly, it was Marlon Black - and not the Jamaican - who returned to bowl the final three overs of regulation play from the River End when Australia still needed forty-seven to win. Despite being the sixth bowler used, he found a solid line and length straight away as the fifth wicket pair attempted to grind out the remaining runs. Perhaps Adams was putting the acid test on his younger players because Dillon found himself on at the Cathedral End in the following over.

From start to finish, it was a helter-skelter type of day. There were some dynamic goings on in the second session, in particular, as the Windies collapsed to be all out for 141 after having headed to the lunch interval in a reasonable position.

Off spinner Colin Miller (5/32) was too hot to handle on a pitch starting to take considerable turn, finishing with match figures of 10/113. Amazingly, the ten wickets actually came to him for a personal cost of thirty-one - from the moment he took his first wicket to when he took his last.

His efforts came after the West Indians got off to the best possible start, dismissing Glenn McGrath in the opening over of the day without addition to his or Australia's first innings score of 403.

The morning session was lively to say the least. Brian Lara (39)'s great strokeplay, a controversial caught behind non-decision, and some good old fashioned on-field banter were the highlights as the match resumed today. Whether the catalyst for all this was the Stuart MacGill-Ramnaresh Sarwan "collision" yesterday is anyone's guess.

But, from there, the tourists suffered yet another debilitating batting collapse that handed the advantage firmly back to Australia. Against Miller's teasing spin, they surrendered their last eight wickets for fifty-three to leave the Australians with their small victory target.

The total of 130 to win at Headingley in 1981 was a scary prospect back then. But one would have to say that, on a spinning track and against an attack whose only specialist bowlers are pacemen, the task is not quite as challenging. One further hour will probably be all it will take to find out the answer.