Turning it on: Chris Gayle, usually one of the most laidback cricketers, epitomised that aggression, going at Michael Clarke with a fierce verbal blast
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After a series of insipid matches, the Champions Trophy has well and truly come to life, as Pakistan's stunning victory on Tuesday was followed by an inspired performance by West Indies, who pulled the rug from under the Australians' feet, sending them spiralling to a ten-run defeat in a pulsating contest. On a Brabourne Stadium pitch that lasted the course much better than its predecessors, West Indies rode on fine performances from Runako Morton (90 not out) and Brian Lara (71) to post 234 for 6, and then restricted Australia to 224 for 9 despite a magnificent and measured 92 from Adam Gilchrist, with Jerome Taylor providing the icing on the cake by becoming the first West Indian to take a hat-trick in ODIs.
From the start, the West Indians showed an intensity that indicated just how keen they were to erase the bad memories of their humiliation against Sri Lanka. Morton and Lara set it up in the afternoon with crucial knocks, while the entire team displayed a desperation that has rarely been in West Indian cricket of late. Chris Gayle, usually one of the most laidback cricketers, epitomised that aggression, going at Michael Clarke with a fierce verbal blast even when West Indies seemed out of the contest. They never let up in the field, and when the 101-run partnership between Gilchrist and Clarke finally ended, the West Indians closed in on their victims like champions.
Australia will feel they should have sealed this one, but the rot started when Gilchrist was involved in a mix-up after a superbly constructed 92. At that stage Australia needed 53 in 50 balls, and with Clarke going strong, they were still favourites. Bravo then chipped in, delivering his famous slower ball to perfection and forcing a return catch out of Clarke (206 for 6). The target was now 29 in 23 balls, but a certain Michael Hussey was still around. That's when Taylor decided to stamp his authority on the contest. Coming back for a spell in the 48th over, he bowled it fast and straight: Hussey, already frustrated by his inability to get the spinners away, swatted at one and lost his stumps. Next ball, Brett Lee was trapped plumb in front by a fast indipper to end the over. Bravo bowled the 49th, before Taylor returned for the last over and shattered Brad Hogg's leg stump as he shaped to play to leg. The hat-trick had been sealed, and so had - effectively - the match.
Adam Gilchrist tempered his aggression to ensure that Australia remained in the hunt
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That the game got so close was largely due to an outstanding, and hugely uncharacteristic, innings from Gilchrist. Usually a 120-ball innings from Gilchrist would involve several electrifying moments, but today there were hardly any, which made the effort even greater. With Shane Watson, Ponting, Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds falling cheaply, Gilchrist had to play the steadying influence, and he did it perfectly. The horizontal-bat shots were minimised early in the innings and unfurled only once he'd got a measure of the wicket. For the most part, he looked to score when the bowlers got their direction wrong and drifted down leg, picking off boundaries to fine leg. Against the spinners, he nudged and flicked the runs, cutting out the sweep shot completely. Till he fell, Australia were cruising. After he disappeared, they crumbled.
West Indies' innings revolved around one huge partnership too, as Morton and Lara lifted West Indies after they had lost four wickets within the first 15 overs. Both batsmen had many overs in the bag, and they set about their rebuilding task cautiously. Morton's inclusion for Shivnarain Chanderpaul was expected to weaken the batting, but even Chanderpaul couldn't have played a more sensible or fluent knock. Showing little traces of the batsman who, in his previous ODI outing, had scored a 31-ball duck, Morton started off with a screaming off-drive off the first ball he faced, and then carried on from there. He drove and cut crisply, but more importantly, kept a cool head throughout, getting the bulk of his runs by placing the ball in the gaps and running hard. He struck just seven fours and a six, and yet finished with a strike rate of 87.
Lara, on the other hand, provided the champagne moments. Coming in at the unfamiliar position of No.6 to counter the spinners, he started circumspectly, clearly intent on staying at the crease to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing collapse from their previous game. After 39 balls he had made just 11, but the next 55 balls went for 60 as he suddenly found a higher gear and uncorked some vintage moments: Brad Hogg was swept and cut in quite glorious fashion, but the real action started when the fast bowlers resumed.
Watson was dismissed quite disdainfully with a front-foot pulled six over midwicket, while a glorious flick off Lee sailed over his square leg for another six. The Lara show was on in full flow, but didn't continue much longer, falling to McGrath shortly after hurting his back. Morton, though, carried on to ensure West Indies didn't lose the plot completely, and in the end, those runs were as critical in the final result as Taylor's hat-trick.
For Australia, this defeat continues a perplexing jinx in Champions Trophy games - this was their fifth defeat in nine matches, while personally for their captain it wasn't a memorable day either: he dropped Morton on 41, and then lasted five deliveries with the bat. Thanks to the format of this tournament, though, the Australians still have an opportunity to strike back. The Champions Trophy is suddenly alive and kicking.
Wavell Hinds c Ponting b Bracken 1 (10 for 1)
Poked at a full, swinging delivery outside off and edged to slip
Dwayne Smith c Hogg b Lee 8 (25 for 2)
Flicked to square leg
Chris Gayle c Gilchrist b Watson 24 (47 for 3)
Tickled one to the 'keeper
Ramnaresh Sarwan lbw b Clarke 21 (63 for 4)
Went back to one which came in with the arm
Brian Lara c Symonds b McGrath 71 (200 for 5)
Short ball slapped straight to cover
Carlton Baugh c Ponting b Bracken 13 (233 for 6)
Fine overhead catch at mid-off
Shane Watson c Sarwan b Bradshaw 0 (12 for 1)
Top-edged a pull to mid-on
Ricky Ponting b Jerome Taylor 1 (17 for 2)
Chopped one back on to his stumps
Damien Martyn c Bravo b Bradshaw 17 (44 for 3)
Drove low and straight to cover
Andrew Symonds b Gayle 18 (81 for 4)
Down the pitch to slog, missed, and found his middle stump rattled
Adam Gilchrist run out (Hinds/ Gayle) 92 (182 for 5)
Sent back attempting a sharp single
Michael Clark c & b Bravo 47 (206 for 6)
Completely deceived by a brilliant slower ball
Michael Hussey b Taylor 13 (214 for 7)
Advanced down the pitch and missed
Brett Lee lbw b Taylor 0 (214 for 8
Trapped in front by an indipper
Brad Hogg b Taylor 10 (219 for 9)
Went across towards the off side, missed and lost his leg stump
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo