West Indies fight back strongly after Hayden's masterclass
Close West Indies 240 and 47 for 0 (Gayle 19*, Smith 21*) trail Australia 240 and 417 (Hayden 177, Langer 111) by 371 runs
Matthew Hayden was back to his best with a magnificent 177, as Australia moved ever closer to that elusive clean-sweep in the Caribbean. By the close of play, Devon Smith and Chris Gayle had nibbled 47 runs out of their target of 418, but West Indies will require a new world record if they are to avoid defeat for the fourth match in succession.
Matthew Hayden: second century of series
Hayden added 242 runs in a blistering opening partnership with Justin Langer, who recorded his 15th hundred, before a collapse of sorts gave a strong West Indian batting line-up hope. All ten Australian wickets fell for 175, as Omari Banks and Merv Dillon lifted themselves in the absence of the first-innings hero, Jermaine Lawson, who was off the field with a back strain, amid murmurings about his somewhat kinky bowling action. The next highest scorer in the innings was Steve Waugh, who finished unbeaten on 45 in his final Test in the Caribbean.
It had been a quiet series for Hayden. Although he picked up a century in the second Test at Port-of-Spain, his returns had been well below the battery-farm standards of the previous year, in which he clobbered eight hundreds in 13 matches. Today though, he made amends in spectacular fashion. In the first session, West Indies seemed devoid of optimism and firepower, and Hayden and Langer cashed in.
Hayden, as usual, was the principle aggressor. He cut Vasbert Drakes towards third man to bring up his century, and two balls later celebrated the 200 partnership with equal glee. It was their fifth in Tests, overtaking the old record set by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
Langer took a more leisurely route to his 15th Test century, but began to cash in thereafter as Drakes served up a diet of long-hops and full-tosses. But, moments after their partnership had exceeded the first-innings totals of 240, Langer was gone, pushing half-heartedly at the part-time spin of Chris Gayle. Brian Lara, who missed Hayden at slip yesterday evening, made no mistake this time (242 for 1).
West Indies wouldn't have been particularly thrilled to see Adam Gilchrist marching out to the middle, a clear statement of intent from the Australian camp. But Banks, who had bowled with flight and guile (and no luck) struck quickly, as Gilchrist deflected an edge off Ridley Jacobs's shoulder, into the hands of Marlon Samuels, the substitute fielder, at gully (273 for 2). And on the stroke of lunch, the same combination put paid to Love as well, at backward short-leg this time (285 for 3). Love had made 2, a timely boost for a beleaguered team.
But Hayden ground relentlessly onwards after the interval. He moved to his 150 by lofting Banks over long-on for six, perhaps in an attempt to take out his old tormentor, Curtly Ambrose, who moments earlier had held up play after wandering in front of the sightscreen. Banks soon retreated to the outfield for a well-deserved rest, but had to be hauled back into the attack when Gayle left the field in mid-spell.
Running out of options, Lara returned to Dillon, who had bowled with no great enthusiasm in his early spells. Dillon's head dropped when Darren Lehmann survived a huge lbw shout on 10, but then, after bowling a spate of no-balls, Lehmann chopped Dillon onto his stumps for 14 (330 for 4), and Dillon was sparked into life. Waugh was rapped on the pads first-ball, and then came the big wicket - as Hayden charged down the wicket for a quick single and was sent back and beaten by Carlton Baugh's direct hit at the non-striker's end (338 for 5).
Andy Bichel, who has been lamping allcomers to all corners in recent weeks, then drove expansively at a full-length ball from Dillon, and clipped a head-high chance to Devon Smith at second slip for 0 (343 for 6). The new ball was now available, but with Dillon finding a hint of reverse-swing, and Banks bowling a fine spell from the other end, Lara held it back. The gamble more or less paid off - Lee made a quickfire 18 before chopping Dillon to yet another substitute, Sylvester Joseph at third man (373 for 7).
After tea, Lara did finally take the new ball, and Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill flinched back to the pavilion in quick succession. But Glenn McGrath made his case for a promotion from No. 11, adding an important 29 runs with his captain, before poking a catch to Daren Ganga at short leg.
Gayle and Smith were left to see out a tricky 23-over spell, and they did so with great maturity. Gayle ground out just four runs in his first 37 balls, but when MacGill overpitched he cracked him mightily into the long-off stands, just to prove he would not be a hostage to this defensive mindset. Brett Lee bowled a furious spell late on, but in fading light, the umpires took pity with five nervy balls remaining. West Indies finished the small matter of 371 runs adrift, with two whole days to play. Victory is as unlikely as ever, but it remains a remote possibility.