Australia v West Indies, 4th match, Champions Trophy October 18, 2006

Time to end the unorthodox



Twists and turns: Jerome Taylor's hat-trick took the match away from Australia © Getty Images

Leaving your most experienced assets in the cupboard is a strange strategy but both sides tried it today. No matter how much the Champions Trophy is dressed up it is mostly a dress rehearsal for more important dates. Among the team theories and piles of computer printouts it was decided Glenn McGrath would bowl first-change for the 20th time in 226 games and Brian Lara would bat six.

Early experiments missing the key elements gave the match a strange feel even before the lights came on and Adam Gilchrist was forced into a making a mature and cautious 92. Other trials, such as Shane Watson's three-ball zero, Brad Hogg's trio of overs, Jerome Taylor's hat-trick and Runako Morton's successful promotion ahead of Lara, did not go Australia's way as their poor record in the tournament continued.

Despite the loss, McGrath remains the major concern, just as Lara's fitness is a worry for West Indies after he injured his lower back while batting. Why they were both used in strangely unfamiliar ways was hard to understand. McGrath is shaking off the rust of a long layoff and the new ball was taken from him. Surely McGrath's psyche is more important than a few overs of Nathan Bracken's swing before he heads around the wicket to contain.

The decision appeared to frustrate McGrath even though he leaked only 15 runs in his first two mini-spells. Having bowled five overs of the first 44, he was waving his arms at Ricky Ponting from the boundary almost pleading for a bowl. Ponting had preferred his slow men and by this stage McGrath had watched his opportunity for a full innings of action disappear with the sun over the Arabian Sea.

Given the death duties, he produced some fine yorkers and low full-tosses, but also gave up 27 runs in 18 balls. He walked off with two overs unused and the wicket of Lara, who had bunted a shorter delivery to Andrew Symonds at cover.



The 137-run stand between Brian Lara and Runako Morton put West Indies on course after an early wobble © Getty Images

While Lara's position was out of order, his arrival time was similar to when he sits higher up the list. Four early wickets meant Lara was required within 15 overs and started another rescue project. Unlike McGrath, Lara was able to work patiently through his early stages, ignoring the fact he was being outscored by Morton, and then accelerate towards a valuable 71. Gilchrist was able to apply the same principle as he shelved his shots and batted time on a surface that was even more restrictive under lights.

Lara was probably eyeing more major milestones - and possibly more whipped sixes over square leg off Brett Lee - when his body weakened. With the amount of work he's carried for West Indies over the past decade his back should have caved in years ago.

The team physio squeezed and stretched his 37-year-old body as he lay on the ground. A few steps and one ball later he swept a boundary from Symonds with a grimace. His end was near and his future in the tournament is in doubt.

McGrath's short-term is more secure, but at 36 he needs to show rapid improvement soon. Today he let go at less than 130kph, his run-up for his opening delivery was more like an amble and his follow-through was abbreviated. He is far from full flight and knows he needs more work. Which is why it was strange that Ponting used him in three small spells and a total of eight overs.

Australia's next match is against England on Saturday and the first Ashes Test is a month away. After this loss it takes on even more importance. The time for unorthodox testing is running out.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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