December 15, 2000

Lara leads tourists through best day of series

An outstanding Brian Lara (136*) century has allowed West Indies to enjoy its best day of the series at the outset of the Third Test against Australia at the Adelaide Oval. The left hander's masterful performance, after two less than impressive outings to begin the series, helped the tourists to a healthy score of 4/274 by stumps after they had won the toss at the start of the day.

Lara, fresh from a sparkling double century in Hobart in the match against Australia 'A' four days ago, raised the bat in front 18,315 appreciative spectators after a delicious late cut off leg spinner Stuart MacGill an hour after tea. His knock to that point had contained sixteen fours and one big six into the Eastern Stand.

The loss of captain Jimmy Adams (49) in the second last over of the day - after more than three hours' resistance - provided a slightly sour note. But the big story by the end of the day remained Lara's performance; at stumps, he was unbeaten on 136 from just 174 balls.

Lara inspired a very good day for the Windies after two appalling displays with the bat in Brisbane and Perth. He was grilled by paceman Glenn McGrath in the fifteen minutes before lunch, was hit on helmet on 11 just after the interval, battled for just twelve runs in the hour after the break, but then unleashed his firepower in the hour before tea, hitting eight fours in adding forty-three runs to his score. On two occasions, he smacked three consecutive boundaries, once off fast bowler Jason Gillespie and once off McGrath. All but one of those boundaries came from authentic strokes.

Following tea, the onslaught continued. MacGill was the main recipient this time; as he pitched up to Lara in one over, he was swept brilliantly for six and then, as he dropped short, he was pulled for four. Lara (then on 73*) enjoyed a piece of good fortune five overs after tea when he top edged a fierce cut at MacGill to Mark Waugh at slip, only to see the difficult chance go down. It was a really tough one, as Waugh dived high and to his right and just couldn't hold on.

The efforts of Adams can not be underestimated, either. He came in at a difficult position (not for the first time in the series) and provided tremendous stabililty for the middle order. His guidance to Lara in their partnership of 183 for the fourth wicket was also invaluable.

Earlier, Daren Ganga (23) and Sherwin Campbell (18) had guided the visitors successfully into the second hour of play with the West Indians' best opening stand of the series. Both had their problems, though. Campbell survived two caught behind appeals (both were proved to be correct decision by television replays) and edged McGrath in the air through fourth slip and gully. Ganga, for his part, nearly edged on to Gillespie from the Cathedral End.

Gillespie switched ends in the lead-up to lunch. And, with the score at 40, new Australian captain Adam Gilchrist mistook a good length ball outside off and it lodged in the helmet behind him to produce five byes - a genuine rarity in test cricket. Later in the over, the Australians experienced a far better stroke of fortune. Ganga lost his wicket as he half left a ball outside off stump, failing to move his bat out of the way sufficiently. Via a healthy inside edge, the ball cannoned into the stumps. West Indies fell to 1/45 in the process and Ganga was gone for a promising but unsatisfactory 23.

The success for the South Australian bowler didn't end there; fifteen minutes later, he penetrated Campbell's defences to trap him in front for 18 - a dismissal which made West Indies 2/52 just before lunch. The ball struck Campbell a little high but looked as though it would have taken the stumps. With fifteen minutes to negotiate before the break, in entered Lara to a nice ovation from the Adelaide crowd.

After lunch, Wavell Hinds continued on in positive fashion. He drove the ball nicely on several occasions before he aimed a back foot shot at Gillespie and was well held at slip by Ricky Ponting. Hinds had made 27 and the West Indians were suddenly a fragile 3/86. But then Lara and Adams took over.

Of the bowlers, Gillespie (4/56) was clearly the best, in front of an adoring home crowd. McGrath (0/66) was excellent early and gave little away throughout the afternoon while spinners Colin Miller (0/67) and MacGill (0/71) may well be better suited to bowling on this track later in the match. Given that the the temperature is expected to reach the mid-thirties over the next two days, the pitch will likely dry out considerably.

Suddenly, the West Indians' plight in the series seems nowhere near as grim as it had before this day began. Whether they can maintain their efforts today into something more substantial - and whether Australia will fail to adequately recover from its worst day of the summer to date - remains to be seen, though. If nothing else, the West Indians at least finally delivered something to their fans who no doubt are losing sleep in more ways than one back in the Caribbean.