Magnificent Bravo delays the inevitable
A sparkling century from Dwayne Bravo and a spirited contribution from Denesh Ramdin delayed Australia's inevitable charge to victory, and not only forced them to bat again, but took the game to the fifth day. From a precarious position of 6 for 140, where an innings defeat looked the most likely result, Bravo and Ramdin put on 182 for the seventh wicket, and helped West Indies to 334 all out, leaving Australia needing 78 for victory when stumps were drawn on the fourth day.
Bravo was especially spectacular, and recalled the West Indian greats of old with his stylish strokeplay, bringing a Caribbean flair to his flicks though the on side. The manner in which he flicked against the spin, with a twirl of the bat, was a revelation in a match where the West Indian top order failed in both innings. Ramdin, who has shown a keen ability to bat in the past, was all wrist and touch, keeping the Australians on their toes. The 182 that Bravo and Ramdin added was the highest for the seventh wicket for West Indies in Australia. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, grateful as he may be for the face-saving partnership, must be wondering why his team could not respond in this manner when he won the toss and chose to bat first on a belter.
If it were not for the Bravo-Ramdin partnership, there was every chance Australia would seal the series 2-0 on the fourth day itself and retain the Frank Worrell trophy. But Bravo, who gave one tough chance to Brad Hodge at square leg on the way to his second Test century, and Ramdin (71) batted well enough to keep pace and spin at bay. Glenn McGrath, miserly as ever, bowled 25 overs for just 29 runs, with 13 maidens, but could not break through on the fourth day. It was a day of defiance for West Indies, with only Shane Warne striking in the first two sessions of play after Brian Lara and Marlon Samuels set the pace at the start of the day.
Although Lara was nowhere near as fluent as he was on the third day, he appeared to be well on top of things. His footwork, though exaggerated at times, was decisive and keen, and his bat came down smoothly to smother any movement in the air or off the wicket that the fast bowlers strove for. He worked the gaps well, striking the odd boundary, reminding the Australians that he was no ordinary batsman, but the odds were stacked against him.
Samuels, batting with a runner after suffering an injury to his knee, was assured in the presence of Lara. Ironically, his lack of mobility worked in his favour. Where he might normally have taken on the bowling with some aggressive strokeplay, he contented himself with keeping the ball out, adopting a compact technique and a dead-straight bat.
Just as the partnership ate up valuable time on a clear yet cool day at the Bellerive Oval, it added 57 runs for the fifth wicket before Lara was dismissed. He pushed at a Warne slider outside the off, and a loud appeal from the keeper and bowler was upheld. Lara, normally a walker, accepted the umpire's decision, but made no move to go on his own accord. A definite sound suggested there might have been a thin edge, but it was too close to call even after watching numerous replays. Lara had made 45.
After Lara was dismissed Samuels seemed a different man. Where he had previously driven with some authority he now poked and prodded tentatively. With two legspinners in Warne and Stuart MacGill operating in tandem, this was a dangerous policy, and it did not yield dividends. Warne had him prodding at a flat, quick one and the inside edge cannoned off pad to Brad Hodge at short leg. Just when it looked as though Australia had got the breakthroughs they needed, and threatened to run away with the game, Bravo and Ramdin came together and injected life into the innings.
At one stage Bravo and Ramdin were so well on top of the bowling that it was hard to imagine how West Indies had been bowled out for 149 in the first innings. The partnership was finally broken when Ramdin (71) pushed hard at a legbreak from Stuart MacGill to Warne at slip, who took a good catch low down. Bravo then did his best to bat with the rather inept tail, but there was not much he could do. After reaching 113, though, he had a rush of blood, charged down the pitch and was bowled round his legs by Warne with the score on 332. Just two runs later the innings was ended and Australia were left with a target of 78 to score on the final day.
Brian Lara c Gilchrist b Warne 45 (5 for 133)
Felt for a flat one outside off
Marlon Samuels c Hodge b Warne 29 (6 for 140)
Popped a catch to short leg
Denesh Ramdin c Warne b MacGill 71 (7 for 322)
Edged to slip
Darren Powell lbw b MacGill 0 (8 for 326)
Padded up to a googly
Dwayne Bravo b Warne 113 (9 for 332)
Came down the pitch and was bowled round the legs
Corey Collymore c Gilchrist b Warne 0 (334 all out)
Edged a flipper trying to force off the back foot
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo