April 19, 2003

An Australian run-fest at Trinidad

This should have been Brian Lara's day, a triumphant homecoming for the newly-reappointed West Indies captain. But aside from two awful umpiring decisions by Asoka de Silva, little went right for him. He lost the toss, watched helpless as Darren Lehmann and Ricky Ponting completed big hundreds in Australia's 391 for 3, and saw his bowlers look inept even by the low standards they had set in Guyana.

Ponting (146*) and Lehmann (160) feasted against an attack who appeared incapable of bowling an over without it containing at least one bad ball. Both batsmen drove anything overpitched - and there was no shortage - back past the bowlers with savagery, and clinically exploited the width they were given. Both completed their hundreds within an over of each other - Lehmann's being his first and only his third score over fifty in his tenth Test - and both batted with the ease of men playing against opponents several divisions below them in terms of ability.

West Indies came into the match with a bowling attack which reeked of defensiveness and as good as admitted that they had little belief they could win the match. It was cruelly and ruthlessly exposed by one batsman with a point to prove and one in the form of his life. Lehmann was running out of chances to cement his place in Australia's middle-order; Ponting came into the game with 329 runs for once out from his previous three international innings. The result was carnage.

Both were dropped once. Ponting's was a routine chance to Marlon Samuels at first slip off Merv Dillon before he had reached fifty; Lehmann a harder, high effort after he had passed his hundred which wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh juggled and grounded. Lehmann also benefited from a poor piece of umpiring when Rudi Koertzen somehow missed a big edge to Baugh shortly before tea. Those abberations aside, it was one-way traffic until a tired Lehmann was cramped as he tried to cut Vasbert Drakes late on and feathered an edge to Baugh (371 for 3).

Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden had got Australia off to a confident start when de Silva, lambasted after a string of dubious decisions in Guyana, struck. Dillon had two vociferous appeals for leg-before turned down by de Silva, both rightly as the ball had pitched outside leg stump. But, bowling over the wicket to the left-handed Langer, he again struck the pad as Langer looked to turn the ball to leg, again appealed and this time de Silva agreed. Langer departed for 25, and replays showed that the ball had pitched further outside leg than the two previously turned down (49 for 1).

With the first ball of his next over Dillon and de Silva struck again to dismiss Hayden lbw for 30, a virtual replay of the first wicket and just as poor an error of judgment from the umpire (56 for 2). Umpiring is a hard and unenviable job, but de Silva's confidence appears to be shot and he needs a rest.

But rather than open up the floodgates, the injustices just made Australia more focussed, and a third shocking decision looked to be the only way West Indies would breakthrough again.

In fairness to Lara, whereas Australia had the luxury of naming the same side which won by nine wickets at Georgetown, West Indies had three changes forced on them. The biggest blow was the loss of Shivnarine Chanderpaul shortly before the start - he failed to shake off the knee injury he picked up at Bourda - and they brought in two players - David Bernard and Baugh - for their debuts. Only two of the West Indies side is over 30 and it bodes well for the future. But things could get far more painful before then.