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June 2, 2008
Brett Lee breathed life into a meandering match with a masterful spell of fast reverse-swing that overshadowed Shivnarine Chanderpaul's second century of the series and significantly increased the chances of a final-day result. Lee's strikes ensured Australia's first-innings lead of 127 and by the end of the fourth day Phil Jaques had run with the momentum, posting 76 and setting up the visitors' advantage of 371.
At the close Australia had reached 244 for 6, with Andrew Symonds unbeaten on 43 after Lee fell from the last ball of the day. Their lead appeared to be more than adequate to secure the Frank Worrell Trophy - they only need a draw - but there was no indication as to when Ricky Ponting would give his bowlers a chance to push for the victory.
Despite their deteriorating position, West Indies refused to be dictated to, and gradually picked off Australia's batsmen. Jerome Taylor grabbed a couple of wickets, trapping Ponting lbw for 38 and drawing an edge behind from Jaques, while a sharp throw from Chanderpaul ended Michael Clarke's stay on 10. But Australia had such a lead that they were not under any real match pressure, although there was some physical pain when Lee took a nasty blow to the helmet from a cracking Fidel Edwards bouncer.
Jaques battled through a scratchy opening and started to find some form, compiling his first half-century in a Test without Matthew Hayden by his side. He put on a 74-run opening stand with Michael Hussey, who was sent out first as Simon Katich was still nursing a bruised rib sustained during his first-innings century. Hussey looked confident while driving his way to 40.
While Jaques and the rest of the top order improved Australia's buffer with relative ease, it was Lee who gave them the opportunity. On a pitch that appeared deader than Stuart MacGill's Test career, Lee located the defibrillators that no other fast bowler could find. He shocked West Indies' middle order into an early exit following a productive 132-run partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Chanderpaul - whose consistency continues to astound - and grabbed five wickets thanks to his venomous late swing.
Lee did benefit from some poor umpiring decisions but he worked hard for the results in a vicious six-over display. The spell, which was broken up by a one-over break to change his shoes, earned Lee 5 for 11, including three wickets in four balls as the lower order battled to deal with his bending of the ball. The major blow came when Bravo, who had compiled a proper Test innings of 45 by controlling his aggressive urges, was adjudged to have feathered a catch down leg side to Brad Haddin. Bravo was clearly disappointed and the replays were inconclusive - it may have come off his thigh pad - but Denesh Ramdin certainly suffered from an umpiring lapse next ball.
Ramdin's eyes had hardly adjusted to the sunshine when he received a startling inswinging yorker from Lee. He jammed the bat down too late and was given lbw by Russell Tiffin, although the ball had struck him outside the line of off stump. Darren Sammy survived the hat-trick delivery but with Lee's next effort became another victim of the reverse swing and Tiffin's misjudgement. Like Ramdin, Sammy was hit outside the line trying to defend and was sent on his way regardless.
West Indies got the worst of the decisions but Lee created the opportunities by sending down hand-grenades. He varied his attack by pushing Taylor back with fast stuff before bowling him with a slower ball, and swung another in to Daren Powell, who was correctly judged lbw to give Lee figures of 5 for 59. Mitchell Johnson ended the innings at 352 when he had Edwards caught behind and it was a relief for Johnson, who was partly responsible for allowing Chanderpaul and Bravo to build such a strong partnership earlier in the day.
Strangely, Ponting opened the morning with his two weaker bowlers and Johnson sprayed deliveries alternately wide of leg and off stumps as he failed to find the late swing that Lee mastered. MacGill was also having problems with his line and length and allowed Bravo to release his aggression with a couple of full tosses that disappeared over midwicket. Chanderpaul, who was largely content to score through well-guided late cuts and nudges, also put MacGill away on his way to an unbeaten 107. When Ponting turned to his part-timers to race through some overs - perhaps wary that he had lost half his match fee in Kingston for slow over rates - Chanderpaul brought up his hundred with an uncharacteristic slog sweep over midwicket off Symonds.
It continued Chanderpaul's remarkable year - in the past 12 months he has made five Test centuries and averages 98.50. He survived the Lee onslaught but as his partners rapidly departed, it became increasingly unlikely that Chanderpaul could carry the hopes of an archipelago on his tiny shoulders as officials began polishing up the Frank Worrell Trophy in anticipation of a possible presentation to Ponting on Tuesday.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?