Lara holds the key as Australia press for victory

Freddie Auld

April 22, 2003

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Australia enjoyed another day of dominance over West Indies on the fourth day of the second Test at Port-of-Spain. After contrasting contributions from Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and Darren Lehmann, Steve Waugh set West Indies a daunting target of 407 to win the game. By the end of play, they had made a decent fist of it, until - in a sign of things of come? - Stuart MacGill ripped one out of the rough in the penultimate over to end a gutsy innings from Wavell Hinds. All eyes are now on Brian Lara, who finished on 52 not out.

To score 407 was never going to be easy for West Indies, but after just six overs of their second innings, it looked nigh-impossible. Both Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee were menacing and bullying in their opening spells, as Devon Smith and Daren Ganga were made to look like small boys.

Smith survived a big Gillespie shout fourth ball, but the fifth one had his number on it. Bowling wide from round the wicket, Gillespie speared one into Smith's pads - the appeal went up, so did umpire de Silva's finger, and Smith bagged a pair in only his second Test (2 for 1). Replays suggested the ball hit him outside the line of off stump, but to free de Silva of yet more stick, it looked out at first glance.

Ganga, hero of the first innings, was the next to go when Gillespie forced him to drive hard at a ball that wasn't full enough for the shot, with Hayden pouching the resulting edge at first slip (12 for 2). And things could have been worse for West Indies ... much worse. Brian Lara, on just 6 at the time, had just pulled Lee for a blistering four when he went for the same shot the next ball - but not with the same result. Beaten for pace, he only skewed the ball back to Lee who grabbed at it one-handed, but - after two attempts - failed to hold on.

Australia earlier declared their second innings at 238 for 3, with Hayden finishing with 100 from 180 balls, his 13th Test century. But it was Lehmann who led the way with an entertaining knock of 66 from 96 deliveries. The hundred partnership between these two was Australia's fourth of this match.

While Hayden nervously scratched his way to a confidence-restoring century, Lehmann signalled the Aussie intent for quick runs from the moment he heaved Marlon Samuels for a huge six over mid-on, halfway through the middle session. He followed that with an identical shot in Samuels's next over, and made sure Dillon got the treatment too when he twice clubbed the ball back past him baseball-style. Fittingly, he brought up his half-century with another searing boundary off the ineffective Samuels. It took him just 82 balls, and included six fours and two sixes.

It was a day of missed opportunities. Lehmann had 20 when Wavell Hinds made a hash of two chances. First, Lehmann pushed Vasbert Drakes to cover, where Hinds swooped for a clean pick-up-and-throw that narrowly missed the stumps. Lehmann would have been a goner, and he should have departed in Drakes's next over too, when he spooned a wide one straight to Hinds at gully, but the ball popped in ... and out.

Hayden's other century partnership was with Ponting, who guided Australia to a commanding position early in the day. In a quiet morning session, the Aussies added 99 to their overnight 31 for 1, builing the foundation from which Lehmann later attacked.

But it was Ponting who again caught the eye as he continued his efforts to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy in double-quick time. He really was in fine fettle, and produced another controlled innings adorned with some dashing strokeplay, including a sumptuous square-drive off Pedro Collins. Another hundred seemed his for the taking when he edged Dillon to Carlton Baugh. Having made 45, he did walk - but not without a word or two to Dillon, who accidentally hit Ponting's helmet with his arm as he celebrated the wicket.

But words aside, it's all about action now for West Indies. Even if Lara makes the most of his let-off and recaptures some of the magic he conjured up in this series four years ago, it's still unlikely that West Indies will win. On a wearing pitch against two attacking wrist-spinners, a draw is realistically the best they can hope for. The likes of Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan need to hold their own - then, given a little luck, West Indies can keep the series alive.

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