Lara was in a mood that was nothing short of majestic
Two contrasting half-centuries put Michael Hussey's maiden one-day century in the shade as West Indies scampered to a nervy three-wicket win in the fourth match of the DLF Cup and secured a place in the final. Brian Lara's artistry was complemented by Chris Gayle's fury and their whirlwind partnership, rattling off 151 at a rate of close to 7.8 runs per over, set the stage for the chase, which was eventually achieved after several heart-stopping moments.
The West Indian bowlers played their part as well, turning in an improved performance to reduce Australia to 104 for 5 at the halfway stage. They couldn't finish the job off - Hussey, leading the side in Ricky Ponting's absence, and Brad Haddin, the wicketkeeper, engineered a comeback with a record sixth-wicket stand - but their batsmen, after threatening to collapse yet again, reached the finish line with close to three overs to spare. The result means West Indies are through to the final with Australia's game against India on Friday turning into a virtual semi-final.
It was by no means a walk in the park. Chasing 273 under lights is never easy and it was imperative that West Indies reprised the scorching starts they've got in the tournament so far. For ten overs they were patient, laboured to 30 for 1, preserved wickets and waited for the opening. Then, like a giant awakening from a slumber, they blitzed their way to 139 for 2 after 25 overs. Ramnaresh Sarwan triggered the acceleration before Gayle instigated mayhem.
A Gayle innings has no set pattern - absolutely anything is possible. At the end of the 12th over, he had 13 off 31 balls with just one four. A clattered six over midwicket, in the 13th over, whet the appetite before Stuart Clark began his third over, on a day that will probably remain his most forgettable one. The first ball was swung over mid-on; ditto the second except it nearly decapitated Clark on the way to the fence; the third was steered for a double, almost a calm interlude; the fourth, a no-ball, was upper-cut for a fantastic six over third man; and the next screamed past mid-off, with the fielder having absolutely no chance. Clark's two overs had gone for 38 and he eventually finished with none for 87 off seven overs.
At the other end Lara was in a mood that was nothing short of majestic. The gorgeous straight-drives and samurai-like whiplashes were out in full force. There was also a masterclass in 'how to toy with spin' as Dan Cullen, all of five ODIs old, watched some good bowling being treated as if it was tripe. It must be quite unnerving to watch a batsman stand a good foot outside leg stump - moving forward and diagonally towards midwicket - watching the ball onto his bat and steering it past the keeper to the third man fence.
When Lara was beaten in the flight after waltzing down the pitch, he still managed to crash the ball into the sight-screen. The faster bowlers did all they could to keep it full and on off, but when a batsman walks across the crease and whips you through midwicket, there is nothing they can do. He was out in a curious manner - the ball ricocheting off the back of the bat as he got too early on a pull - and it was only after his dismissal that Australia had any chance. Four wickets fell for 13 runs, raising visions of another "calypso collapse", but Dwayne Bravo held his nerve, lofted a six in the dying stages and steered them home.
Michael Hussey's 109 in only 90 deliveries was a magnificent effort
It was a victory to savour, especially after the two Hs - Hussey and Haddin - had threatened to undo all the good work the West Indian bowlers had done in the opening stages. Hussey went about rebuilding the innings in a manner that has made him an ODI master over the last year - eliminating the dots, running the fielders ragged, picking off the odd boundary and setting them up for the slog. Amid all this were reverse-paddles, slog sweeps, short-arm jabs and crisp swats. To rip a controlled 109 in just 90 deliveries, with the team stuttering, was a magnificent effort.
At the other end, there was Haddin, continuing a long tradition of Australian wicketkeeper-batsmen who've more often than not thwarted the opposition's plans just when everything seems to be going their way. Merging some of Ian Healy's combativeness with a tinge of Adam Gilchrist's aggressiveness, Haddin drilled four fantastic sixes enroute to his highest ODI score. It was the partnership of the day until Gayle and Lara combined.
Simon Katich run-out 22 (41 for 1)
Keen on a third after punching through extra-cover but stranded mid-pitch
Shane Watson c Lara b Taylor 0 (42 for 2)
Airy backfoot cut flies low to Lara at cover
Andrew Symonds c Smith b Bradshaw 8 (57 for 2)
Like Watson, mis-times a cut to cover
Michael Clarke c Gayle b Bradshaw 1 (64 for 4)
Tried to cut off the front foot but managed only to edge to first slip
Matthew Hayden c Taylor b Bravo 49 (104 for 5)
Lined up for a pull but patted it straight to short fine leg
Brad Haddin c Taylor b Bravo 70 (270 for 6)
Shuffled across the stumps and lapped it straight to short fine leg
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Haddin b Lee 0 (12 for 1)
Beaten by the away movement, adjudged out despite ball clipping only pad
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Haddin b Bracken 25 (44 for 2)
Misses trying to cut, ball grazes bottom of glove
Chris Gayle c Hussey b Watson 79 (195 for 3)
Mis-timed a pull straight to short midwicket
Brian Lara c Hussey b Lee 88 (242 for 4)
Tried to pull but ball ricocheted from back of the bat to short third man
Wavell Hinds c Haddin b Lee 1 (249 for 5)
Edged driving a wide one
Marlon Samuels run out 0 (249 for 6)
Turned to point and took off for a non-existent run; beaten by a direct hit
Dwayne Smith b Symonds 4 (255 for 7)
Walked down the pitch and missed an offbreak
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo