April 20, 2003

Australia in charge despite Lara's fightback

Once again, this was not a day to be a bowler. Saturday's play produced 391 runs for the loss of three wickets, two of them extremely fortuitous. Today, the respective figures were 371, four, one. But whereas on day one, the Australians made every ounce of the running, this time they were forced to do their fair share of the chasing as well.

After Ricky Ponting had completed the first double-century of his career, and Adam Gilchrist had added a typically high-octane hundred of his own, Daren Ganga and Brian Lara launched a thrilling final-session counterattack, reprising their efforts in the first Test at Georgetown by adding 158 for West Indies's third wicket. But the Australians, as always, had the last laugh. When Brad Hogg bowled Lara round his legs for 91 with two overs remaining, the gloss, and several layers of undercoat, had been taken off West Indies's effort.

It was a crushing disappointment for the Trinidad crowd, who have still to witness their hero score a Test century on home soil (his highest score is 96). But after the West Indian torpor of the first two sessions, any emotion was better than none. By tea, when Steve Waugh had declared with Australia on 576 for 4, and West Indies had lost both their openers inside seven overs, a devastating rout was the only bankable option.

After that soul-destroying first day, the West Indian fielders emitted a heavy air of resignation as Ponting and Gilchrist strode to the wicket to resume the carnage this morning. Ponting, who is currently batting with an authority scarcely rivalled in Test history, jogged to his third score of 150 in eight Tests with barely a murmur of resistance, and was even allowed a 25-minute net as the new ball was shelved in favour of Marlon Samuels's speculative offbreaks. The pair added a further 126 runs in the morning session, with Gilchrist shrugging off a half-baked attempt to rough him up to plunder leg-side boundaries at will, and the die was cast.

The way he was batting, only an accident or a lapse of concentration could have dislodged Ponting, who became only the fifth Australian to score a double-hundred in the Caribbean. In fact, it required both, as he swept at Samuels and sauntered out of his ground to jog a single, only for the wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh to whip off the bails as Ponting backflipped towards his crease. Umpire Asoka de Silva, who had been gazing idly towards the fine-leg boundary and may have helped fool Ponting into believing that Baugh had not gathered the ball, acknowledged the appeal without bothering with a replay. He was fortunate not to have dropped his third clanger of the innings.

All of which overshadowed yet another Gilchrist special, which included 11 fours and two sixes from just 104 balls. Astonishingly, it was only the eighth Test century of his career - somehow, he seems to have scored so many more. Waugh declared the moment he reached three figures, and West Indies were left with the best part of 50 overs to salvage the match. Immediately, the Queen's Park Oval pitch was transformed as Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie swiftly accounted for Devon Smith, for a fifth-ball duck, and Wavell Hinds, whose frenetic innings of 20 contained five fours and a complete lack of footwork.

But Ganga, whose selection ahead of Chris Gayle now looks like a masterstroke rather than a cut-and-paste job, held firm and counterpunched boldly while Lara took time to find his range. When he did, it was a spectacular explosion of strokeplay, mostly at the expense of Stuart MacGill, whose seven overs were flailed for 50 runs. Alas, the pressure of the occasion started to bite with 20 minutes remaining, and he brought down the shutters just that fraction too soon.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in London.