West Indies in deep strife after brief fightback
West Indies showed some fighting spirit, picking up Australian wickets in a heap, but it was not enough as a proud and defiant Brad Hodge compiled a polished half-century in his first bat in Test cricket and pushed the lead on to a healthy 257 on another day truncated by rain. Then Glenn McGrath cantered in and did his thing, picking off the West Indian openers in quick time, opening the door for Brett Lee to blast out a couple more wickets and leave West Indies doddering at 82 for 4.
Had it not been for the rain, which robbed spectators of over an hour of cricket, the game might well have ended today. Looking at the scorecard you might imagine the pitch at the Bellerive Oval had suddenly turned nasty, but nothing could be further from the truth. The day dawned cool and sunny, perfect for batting, and cricket. Yet Ricky Ponting, who has a habit of pushing hard at the ball when he has just come to the crease, drove away from his body and inside-edged Fidel Edwards back onto his stumps in just the second ball of the day.
Ponting's dismissal, which seemed to take West Indies pleasantly by surprise, spurred the fielders on, and suddenly a vulnerable middle-order was exposed to an attack with its tail up. Michael Clarke, completely out of sorts, was constantly rattled by the late swing and pace from Edwards, before he carelessly slashed him to Dwayne Smith, the substitute fielder at point. Dwayne Smith would go on to play a crucial part, acting the role of cheerleader, being the lynchpin in the field. After Michael Hussey, who had pushed his score from an overnight 116 to 137, scooped Dwayne Bravo to cover, the other Dwayne - Smith - sent Andrew Symonds back with an athletic bit of fielding. Swooping in on the ball at square leg, Smith spun and threw the stumps down at the non-striker's end. Just two runs later Adam Gilchrist failed to pick up a slower ball and found that man Dwayne Smith at point, and Australia had gone from 256 for 1 to 317 for 6.
While members of both teams were playing out a drama quite the opposite of the run of play that has been scripted for the series so far, Hodge was living out his own dream. Yesterday Hussey - tall and sinewy - had used his long limbs well, coiling repeatedly for one enthusiastic stroke after another. Today Hodge, who has had a first-class apprenticeship almost as long and distinguished as Hussey, found himself in a similar position, but executed differently. Built like a brick-house with a broad-batted defence to match, and compact and stylish when driving, Hodge brought composure and panache to the team where Hussey brought energy and verve.
Hodge looked set to emulate Hussey in reaching three figures, or be left stranded as he batted around the tail, when he fell, trapped in front by a quick delivery from Collymore that jagged back off the pitch. The tail wagged stubbornly enough to push Australia to 406, and a lead of 257. Soon, when McGrath removed Chris Gayle with the fourth ball of the innings, with a pearl of a full inducker, and sent Devon Smith packing, caught at slip, with only 27 on the board, that lead suddenly seemed ominously large.
Sarwan played a couple of beautiful strokes, but the substance was sorely lacking, and after surviving a loud shout for lbw against Lee that might have gone in the bowler's favour on another day, edged to the keeper. Shivnarine Chanderpaul's vigil was brief, and he too fell to the Gilchrist-Lee combination with the score reading 76 for 4. Brian Lara kept his end up through all this, batting with balance and poise, carving the ball through the off side with power and precision, reaching 18 when rain struck again and called an early close to play at 82 for 4. But even a Lara epic may not be enough to save this game for West Indies. It will take someone to support Lara, and play the innings of his life to restore some pride and passion in this West Indian team, even if does not stave off defeat.
Ricky Ponting b Edwards 17 (257 for 2)
Dragged one on
Michael Clarke c Dwayne Smith b Edwards 5 (271 for 3)
Slashed to point
Michael Hussey c Sarwan b Bravo 137 (306 for 4)
Scooped to cover
Andrew Symonds run out (Dwayne Smith) 1 (315 for 5)
Hesitated taking a sharp single
Adam Gilchrist c Dwayne Smith b Bravo 2 (317 for 6)
Hit a slower ball to point
Shane Warne c Sarwan b Powell 1 (324 for 7)
Chased a wide ball and edged to slip
Brett Lee c Ramdin b Edwards 18 (362 for 8)
Slashed to keeper off the back foot
Brad Hodge lbw b Collymore 60 (377 for 9)
Trapped in front by one that jagged in
Glenn McGrath run out (Chanderpaul/Ramdin) 14 (406 for 10)
Stranded after a terrible mix-up with Stuart MacGill
Chris Gayle b McGrath 4 (4 for 1)
Cleaned up by a full swinging delivery
Devon Smith c Ponting b McGrath 8 (27 for 2)
Chased a wide one and found slip
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Gilchrist b Lee 32 (62 for 3)
Flashed to the keeper
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Gilchrist b Lee 10 (76 for 4)
Thin edge poking outside off
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.