December 2, 2000

Waugh passes test but can West Indies save it?

There were times during the second day of this Test match that illustrated exactly why cricket at this level is known as Test cricket.

This was a day played hard and tough, by 22 men trying desperately to effect some advantages for their respective team.

Mark Waugh, with his elegance and true grit, changed things fully to ensure Australia had the advantage. What a comeback after the pressure he was under recently. Perhaps, only perhaps, Brian Lara could follow suit, since he too was under the same pressure.

At least no-one, not even me, could complain about the efforts and the cricket overall, even if the West Indies, as they did at Brisbane, lost the plot somewhat after tea, the fast bowlers tiring badly and being punished for it by Brett Lee.

With the Australians starting at 72-2 in reply to the West Indies 196, both teams would have been looking for the immediate advantage. While Australia managed to go to lunch at 151-4, the West Indies looked to have made every effort to take quick, necessary wickets.

Jimmy Adams however showed a lack of imagination when it looked as if he could just get that break through. Someone will have to wake him up sometime this series. His field placings were strange, and the situation with the 2nd new ball, not taking it immediately after tea, confused all.

Australia scored a daunting 396-8 before captain, Steve Waugh, surprisingly, declared late in the afternoon, giving his bowlers seven overs at the West Indies late in the evening.

Darren Ganga is not out nine, just surviving to the end, while losing opening partner Sherwin Campbell, easily caught by the first of two gullies, Jason Gillespie, from the bowling of Brett Lee. When Campbell went for four, the West Indies were 7-1. Night-watchman Merve Dillon was also out, caught at the wicket by wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist, for three, the final act of the day.

Sunday could be a very long day for the West Indies batsmen.

Earlier, Mark Waugh, with his 18th Test hundred; was eventually dismissed for 119, including 12 boundaries. It was his first Test century since making exactly 100 against Pakistan in the 1999/2000 series 19 innings ago, and represented a perfect psychological comeback. He also helped put his team in a very strong position to effect that record-breaking 12th win.

Waugh Junior came to the crease when his team was in some bother at 111-3, after overnight batsman Matthew Hayden had been bowled, from an inside edge, by Marlon Black, for a very well-made 69. He had survived a chance on 58, in the 11th over of the day, when he top edged a Dillon delivery to fine-leg, but Marlon Black spilled a dolly catch, the score 100-2.

Courtney Walsh, in the meantime, was soon presented with a straight but fiercely hit caught and bowled chance from Hayden. The return catch was missed, but Walsh had to quickly go for an x-ray, as the ring finger of his bowling finger was dislocated. The x-ray suggested only severe bruising.

At 104-2, Gillespie, then on 12, received another poor decision, this time by Umpire Peter Parker. There was a clear deviation from the glove of the Black delivery on its way to wicket-keeper Jacobs which was confirmed by television replays. The dismay and disappointment of the West Indies was evident.

But nightwatchman Gillespie did not last for much longer. He was caught by Brian Lara at 1st slip, from the bowling of Nixon McLean, for a bothersome 23.

Waugh Junior was also dropped at cover point by Darren Ganga, when he had made only 21 and the score 159-4. That miss cost the West Indies dearly. He also survived a fearful hit from a delivery from Courtney Walsh, using the second new ball, directly on the helmet, when he was 93, and Australia 296-6.

After that, he blossomed, playing some imperious shots in his innings, driving, glancing and guiding the fast bowlers everywhere in the outfield. The straight drives, especially off Dillon and Nixon McLean, then a pull and a cover drive, after he had made his century, from Courtney Walsh's bowling, were sights to behold. Incidentally, when he had gotten to his century, after only 151 balls, he had hit ten four's.

He established useful partnerships with his brother Steve, putting on 65 for the fifth wicket, in 107 balls and then with Adam Gilchrist, who also played well for his sixth Test half century; including seven boundaries; Waugh added a quick-fire 95 runs in 134 balls for the seventh wicket. Both partners fell to Walsh to edge him close to the 500 landmark.

Said Mark Waugh afterwards: "To make runs on a bouncy Perth pitch, against the West Indies, was very satisfying. I was very pleased with the way I played. No, I was not under any real pressure except that this is a Test match. Simply, I wanted to enjoy the day, hopefully make a few runs, as this is a very important game for us. I was obviously pretty focussed out there and was happy with the way my form went."

"Perth could be a difficult place to bat, as obviously there are pace and bounce there. It takes a bit of adjusting to. If you happen to meet a couple of good fast bowlers, it can be pretty awkward, but once you get in, the pace of the wicket allows you to score quickly. At least it's a nice and even surface out there. You can get yourself in trouble if you are not diligent and watch the ball constantly."

"Perth is a lot harder, with much more pace and bounce than Brisbane. Brisbane was a little bit slower and a bit more uneven. While Perth was much more even, if you wanted to bend the back, the bowlers could get some help too"

The third day is shaping up to be a truly great day. Either Australia will win the game, and secure that record of 12 consecutive Test wins in a row, or the West Indies could flash themselves to glory, slashing and bashing the Australians to a full stop.

Somehow, the former seems more likely than the latter, but you never know.