Third Test

West Indies v Australia 1998-1999

Toss: Australia.

Another transcendent innings by Lara saw West Indies touch the heights of glory just 22 days after they had hit rock bottom in Trinidad. Irrefutably, his undefeated 153 was the hand of a genius. Exhibiting the new awareness and maturity he discovered in Jamaica, he brilliantly orchestrated the conclusion to an unforgettable match. He guided his men to victory as though leading the infirm through a maze.

Two days earlier, West Indies had been 98 for six in response to Australia's imposing 490, and seemed destined to follow on. But they turned the game round so successfully that they found themselves needing 308 to take the lead in the series. It seemed improbable, but it was within Lara's reach.

No one else scored more than 38, and the eighth wicket fell with 60 still wanted for victory. But Ambrose obdurately occupied the crease for 82 minutes to be followed by Walsh, who survived five balls, helped by a wide and a no-ball, before Lara crashed Gillespie to the cover boundary to complete a victory even more astonishing than the last one, giving West Indies a 2-1 lead in the series.

It was only the fourth time West Indies had scored more than 300 to win a Test, the last occasion being at Lord's in 1984. Despite the result, Steve Waugh, who survived some extraordinary pace bowling from Ambrose to score a priceless 199, said he had never played in a better match - a telling observation, given that he had appeared in the tied Test against India in 1986-87.

While Lara and Steve Waugh manfully bore the brunt of the workload and responsibility, they did manage to elicit support at significant times against pace bowling of the highest class. On the pulsating final day, which left players and spectators emotionally spent, Adams again heard his captain's cries for help and occupied the crease for 170 minutes to complement the earlier efforts of the two Barbadians, Campbell and Griffith. And, earlier in the match, Campbell scored his most important Test century to help West Indies avoid the follow-on. He and Jacobs added 153 for the seventh wicket, blunting McGrath and Gillespie. After fraught beginnings against Gillespie, in particular, Campbell finished with 105, after six hours and ten minutes. His first 50 took 162 balls with five fours, his second 78 balls with ten fours.

Steve Waugh's assistance had come from Langer and Ponting. Langer played competently until he underestimated Hooper (returning from the sick-bed of his child in Australia). Ponting, who was recalled when Blewett withdrew with a hand injury, batted at No. 6, and made 104, adding 281 with Waugh - the highest fifth-wicket stand ever against West Indies, eclipsing 220, also for Australia, between Keith Miller and Ron Archer at Sabina Park in 1954-55. Waugh batted for nearly eight and a half hours, and struck 20 fours, a five and a six. He was philosophical at his dismissal one short of 200, saying he had never before played and missed so often - primarily against the rampant Ambrose. He was not as stoical, however, when Australia lost their last six wickets for 65, and he was even less pleased when they batted so limply and complacently against the relentless Walsh at their second attempt that they extended their 161-run first-innings lead by no more than a modest 146.

Yet again, the destiny of West Indies lay with Lara. He began the final day on two, having spent an awkward 28 minutes at the crease amid lengthening shadows the previous evening, when three of his colleagues were dismissed. When two more fell soon after the resumption, a scoreline of 105 for five seemingly spelled doom. Lara proceeded to play an innings of astonishing skill and daring. In full control of his emotions and meticulous in his shot selection, he dominated the minds of the Australian bowlers. One by one they were rendered impotent. Gillespie, bothered by back pain, spent critical time off the ground, compelling Steve Waugh to share the second new ball with McGrath, who hit Lara on the helmet, leading to an undignified altercation. Otherwise, it was an imperious innings - arguably greater than anything he had produced before because there was never any safety net. One mistake and the game was lost.

Actually, he made two, but Australia were too befuddled to take advantage: on 101, Warne failed to hold on to a very sharp return catch and, with just seven runs wanted, Healy put him down. These uncharacteristic lapses cost Australia the match. Though McGrath did bowl Adams with West Indies still 70 from victory, and followed up with two more wickets in two balls, Ambrose enabled Lara to advance the score to 302 before Walsh, the last man, was exposed. Then came the winning four and the stampede by the crowd. In all, Lara batted for 353 minutes and 256 balls, and struck 19 fours and a pulled six against Warne. The Daily Nation in Barbados headlined this as the Match of the Century, and its writer Haydn Gill said "It will go down in the history books as one of the most spirited ever revivals, the victory coming from the depths of despair." Even an Australian could not argue with that.

Man of the Match: B. C. Lara.

Close of play: First day, Australia 322-4 (S. R. Waugh 141*, Ponting 65*); Second day, West Indies 80-4 (Campbell 23*, Hooper 13*); Third day, Australia 18-2 (Slater 14*, Gillespie 1*); Fourth day, West Indies 85-3 (Griffith 35*, Lara 2*).

© John Wisden & Co