West Indies, who fancy their chances to be the first host team to win a World Cup, suffered their opening loss of the tournament, a thumping one at that, against a rampant Australia that is slowly building up ominous momentum. Matthew Hayden set the game up with an innings of tremendous control and power on a first day cut in half by rain, and the bowlers backed it up with a cool performance on the second.
Chasing 323 against Australia's varied attack is a tough ask at the best of times. Fortunately for the West Indians, the dampness caused by the overnight drizzle at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua did nothing to cause exaggerated assistance for the fast bowlers early on.
Nathan Bracken was steady, moving the ball a touch, but the approach of West Indies' openers was strange. Chris Gayle, who they look to for a big start, crawled into his shell, defending, prodding, poking and driving straight to the field. It didn't help that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was done in by a combination of pace from Shaun Tait and umpiring error from Asad Rauf, when a ball pitching on the stumps and slanting away thudded into his pad. The appeal for lbw was upheld even though the ball appeared to be missing the off stump.
Gayle, bottled up and tied down, decided to break the shackles, but chose the wrong bowler to attack. He played an ambitious pull off Glenn McGrath and as the top edge speared in the air, Shane Watson settled under it. Gayle's 2 off 23 balls had left West Indies well behind the required rate at 16 for 2 in the eighth over. Then Marlon Samuels had one of his brainwaves, charging down the pitch and attempting a one-handed shot that only went up in the air for Andrew Symonds to pocket.
Ramnaresh Sarwan partnered Brian Lara for a time, watching from the non-striker's end as one beautiful cover-drive after another whistled past the infield. But having made 29 off 58 balls, Sarwan came down the pitch to a Brad Hogg full-toss and thumped it straight to midwicket. Dwayne Bravo would only waste 10 balls, carving McGrath straight to Ricky Ponting at cover, leaving West Indies on 107 for 5 in the 29th over, and well off the pace in pursuit of their target.
With the required run-rate climbing past ten, the need of the hour was a Lara innings that could better what Hayden came up with on Wednesday. All the signs were there. He looked to attack and chose the bowlers and deliveries to do so almost perfectly. Hogg, tossing the ball and spinning it one way or the other, posed little problem as Lara read the spin effortlessly out of the hand. He could come down the pitch and hit through the line into the stands as he pleased. After one such particularly belligerent thrash, Hogg got his revenge. Lara, on 77, aimed to jam a very full delivery from Hogg down to third man, missed, and was trapped in front.
Denesh Ramdin beavered away to a half-century, but Dwayne Smith failed, becoming Hogg's third victim, trapped lbw. Symonds helped himself to the wicket of Jerome Taylor, and soon enough the end came, with West Indies all out for 219, and losing by 103 runs.
Had it not been for Lara's innings, the margin of victory would have been much bigger, and this is relevant, with net run rates possibly coming into play in this section of the tournament. Australia, after being put in to bat, had played their cards just right. They quickly realised that this was not one of those grounds with the small straight boundaries - like Warner Park in St Kitts where they played South Africa in that high-scoring affair - and adjusted their style of play.
Hayden spent 18 balls getting off the mark - and even with Adam Gilchrist falling early, and Ponting being run out after looking in good touch - stayed true to the plan he had for himself. He hustled more than he muscled, using the big shots only when he was absolutely sure of clearing the field. That no other Australian batsman managed a half-century, Michael Clarke's 41 being the second best, didn't matter, simply because Hayden batted for 47.1 overs, allowing the others to chip in around him during his 158.
Hayden's ninth one-day century - it's tough to believe he's made that few - was one of two distinct parts. He reached 58 off 80 balls and the next 100 he scored came from only 63. With Watson swatting 33 off 26 in the end, Australia had made 322 on a ground where less might have sufficed even without the rain.