Lara's double-hundred rocks Adelaide
It was the Brian Lara show all the way at the Adelaide Oval, as he uncorked an innings of stunning class and vintage majesty on the opening day of the Adelaide Oval. His eighth double-century - an unbeaten 202 - lifted West Indies to 7 for 352 at close of play on the opening day, and left him just 12 runs away from breaking Allan Border's record for the highest aggregate in Test cricket.
Dogged by poor form and bad luck throughout this series, Lara fought back in style at a venue which has always been a lucky one for him - he now averages 94.83 here. As has happened so often in the past, though, none of the other West Indian batsmen offered him substantial support - the second-highest score was a measly 34 - which ensured that despite Lara's monumental effort, West Indies still only had a par score on the board on a pitch which is an excellent one for batting.
Coming in to bat at 2 for 19, Lara had to battle hard for his runs - and for survival - early in the piece. The ball was swinging, conditions were slightly overcast, and both Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath had their tails up. Lara negotiated both, not entirely comfortably, but his biggest test of the day came from an unlikely source. The first ball that Andrew Symonds bowled to him nearly had him trapped in front - though replays showed that Aleem Dar made an excellent judgment as the ball pitched just marginally outside leg - and then, throughout that eight-over spell, Symonds probed ceaselessly with his swing and control.
Lara survived that, battling his way to a 67-ball 27 at lunch. After that, none of the Australian bowlers had much of a chance. The twinkle-toed footwork gradually returned, the uncertain shuffling around the crease stopped, and those supple wrists soon began to work their magic: when the legspinners tossed it high and wide, Lara took the bait, crashing the drives either side of cover; when they drifted towards leg, the sweep shot - including a single-handed one - did the trick. As the confidence returned, so did the ability to pick the gaps and make use of the short boundaries square of the wicket. When Lee returned for his second spell, he was greeted with a scorching square-drive - little footwork but all flourish - and then a pull shot which brought him his hundred.
By the final session, Lara's mastery over the Australian bowlers was complete. Though this was a first-day pitch, both Warne and MacGill got reasonable turn from it, but Lara's presence meant they were far less effective than they might have been otherwise - off 107 balls, they leaked 88 runs to him. Ponting took the second new ball as soon as it was due, but that only increased the flow of runs for Lara. On 190 with just three overs to go, Lara turned it on in style, pulling Lee in front of square for four, flicking him for a couple, and then unleashing another pull which crashed into the square-leg fence - his 20th four - and brought up his double-hundred. The Adelaide crowd, which had given him a rousing welcome in the morning sensing that it was probably be his last Test in Australia, rose to a man to applaud an outstanding effort.
At the end, the score was a damning indictment on the rest of the batsmen. Wavell Hinds, back in the team in place of Chris Gayle, and Devon Smith were consumed by the pace and swing of Lee, who bowled an inspired opening spell, and while Shivnarine Chanderpaul fell to a fine delivery, some of the others were guilty of throwing it away - Ramnaresh Sarwan fell to the pull for the umpteenth time, while Dwayne Smith tried to smash the cover off the ball when what was needed was sensible support for Lara.
The best support acts came from the batting heroes at Hobart, Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin. Bravo batted with all the assurance he had shown at the Bellerive Oval, scoring a fine 34, while Ramdin handled both the spinners and the new ball with aplomb till he was trapped on the shuffle late in the day. With only the bowlers for company, expect Lara to turn it on from the start on the second day. And expect another standing ovation when - and if - he gets those 12 runs.
Wavell Hinds c Hayden b Lee 10 (1 for 16)
Fended a snorter to gully
Devon Smith c Hayden b Lee 7 (2 for 19)
Drove at a full, swinging delivery and edged to gully
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Symonds b Lee 16 (3 for 53)
Hooked a well-directed bouncer to long leg
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Gilchrist b Symonds 25 (4 for 121)
Tickled one going across him to the keeper
Dwayne Bravo c Ponting b MacGill 34 (5 for 237)
Attempted flick, leading edge to cover
Dwayne Smith c Symonds b MacGill 14 (6 for 263)
Top-edged a slog-sweep
Denesh Ramdin lbw b McGrath 27 (7 for 333)
Trapped on the shuffle by an incoming delivery
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo