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June 29, 2008
Shane Watson made his first ODI century and Ricky Ponting bounced back to form as Australia completed yet another one-sided victory over West Indies to take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-match series. Chasing 224 on a decent batting pitch, Australia ruthlessly took advantage of a lacklustre bowling effort from West Indies to cruise to one of their easiest wins in recent memory, reaching the target with seven wickets in hand and 57 balls to spare.
Watson is competing with Shaun Marsh to become the permanent limited-overs opening partner for Matthew Hayden and his 126 will do his cause significant good. He fell late in the chase, paddle-sweeping to short fine-leg, but Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke had no trouble getting Australia over the line. As well as Watson played, he will rarely enjoy an innings at international level where he is under less pressure.
West Indies' total was never likely to be enough but when Fidel Edwards removed Marsh in the first over there should have been some spark. Instead there was nothing. Just as their woeful batting display on Friday led to a couple of omissions for this match, their ordinary effort with the ball on this occasion must raise questions over the attack, while their fielding was also distinctly sub-par.
Watson's innings ticked over at around a run a ball but he hardly needed to take any risks, instead pouncing on short and wide offerings and clipping confidently through leg when the fast men strayed onto his pads. He cut an out-of-sorts Sulieman Benn for thee fours in one over when the spinner repeatedly pitched too short and wide and the third of the boundaries gave Watson his half-century from 48 deliveries.
However, his innings should not be regarded lightly and there were moments of pure Watson perfection, as when he clubbed Dwayne Bravo back over his head for a huge six, and a couple of straight drives highlighted a sound batting technique. His century came up from 106 balls with a pulled four when Chris Gayle dropped short and a double-arm-raised cheer showed how important the milestone was after 68 matches and six on-and-off years in the team.
Ponting was equally happy to make the most of the insipid bowling display. Early in his innings he dispatched four boundaries in three overs when Daren Powell and Edwards constantly overpitched - the ultimate gift for a man who started the series with a pair of failures - and he rarely looked threatened until slog-sweeping a catch to Xavier Marshall at long-on when he had 69.
That ended the innings of "R Pointin", according to the National Cricket Stadium's scoreboard, which for most of the day didn't even work and left the fans with no idea of the progress as there was no manual scoreboard as a backup. It hardly improved Grenada's reputation after Friday's unacceptable and repeated sightscreen glitches, but really the off-field embarrassments were trivial compared to West Indies' regular malfunctions on the park over the past three days.
The batting looked like it might finally gel when Gayle and Marshall put on an 86-run opening stand after being sent in by Ponting but another string of unfulfilled starts left the fans disappointed. Even allowing for the frailty of the West Indies middle order, it was impossible to believe they would fail to bat out their overs after the openers lasted until the 18th over.
But it all fell apart for them again and Australia were all smiles as Brett Lee became the fastest man to reach 300 ODI wickets with a skied caught-and-bowled that removed Darren Sammy, and then soccered the ball onto the stumps in a comedic run-out as Powell dropped the ball at his feet, started, stopped, started again, slipped, and was caught short trying to crawl back to his crease. That dismissal told the story of West Indies' day.
It could have been so different but Marshall, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan were all caught after making solid starts and reaching the 30s. Sarwan and Chanderpaul guided them to 160 for 2 before Chanderpaul edged behind off Symonds and was snared by some sharp work from Luke Ronchi, who knocked the ball up on his first attempt and pouched it second grab. Four overs later, when Sarwan had 31, he impatiently drove Mitchell Johnson straight to Symonds at cover after being tied down for four consecutive dot balls.
Wickets just kept falling. Andre Fletcher had 12 when he came out of his crease to Nathan Bracken, apparently forgetting that Ronchi was keeping up close, and was brilliantly stumped when he missed an attempted pull. It was the third outstanding piece of glovework from Ronchi, playing only his second ODI. He also sent Marshall back for 35 when he hurled himself to his right, toward where a first slip might have been, to grasp a thick edge.
Marshall had taken a backseat to Gayle, who looked so ominous that shots he appeared to mistime even flew to the boundary. He hammered three sixes on his way to 53 from 54 balls and recorded his 100th six in one-day internationals when he picked up an outswinger on a driveable length off Bracken and slammed it back over the bowler's head. But the only bright point of West Indies' day was extinguished when Marshall's straight drive clipped the bowler Johnson's fingers and rebounded onto the stumps to have Gayle unluckily run out.
It was all a downhill slide from there. After a Test series that, while won 2-0 by Australia, was fiercely competitive, the one-day portion of the tour has been awfully one-sided. And there are still two games to go.
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ESPNcricinfo runs the rule over the preparation of all 16 Australia players ahead of the first Test, which starts in Dubai on Wednesday