They are the stars of the West Indies batting line-up, and for 116 runs on Saturday they looked just that. Brian Lara and captain Carl Hooper's fifth wicket stand brought a full house at the Kensington Oval to its feet and helped the home side to within three runs of saving the follow-on in the third test against South Africa.

At stumps the West Indies had reached 252-5 in their first innings, still trailing by 202, with Hooper still there on 74 and Ridley Jacobs 14 not out. Lara (83) and Hooper's partnership was frequently spectacular, always absorbing and absolutely crucial to the West Indies cause as they came together on the fall of Ramnaresh Sarwan with the score 102-4. Lara mixed extended spells of patience with periods when he was obviously looking to get after the bowling.

The only chance he offered was on 21 when an edge off Shaun Pollock was 'caught' by Mark Boucher behind the stumps, but after Darryl Hair had called for the third umpire Halley More's help, television pictures appeared to show the ball touching the ground as it went into the 'keeper's gloves.

While Lara attacked at one end, Hooper was the more conservative until suddenly coming to life. Three fours pulled to the mid-wicket fence off one over from Makhaya Ntini took him within sight of his fourth half-century in the series, which he duly reached after 17 balls on 49.

It was the pull shot that proved the end of Lara, Kallis getting one to climb quickly and Lara, rather like Marlon Samuels before him, mis-timed the shot to see the ball loop to Nicky Boje at wide mid-on. Lara looking so good was gone for 83, made off 186 balls in four and three-quarter hours and including 13 boundaries.

His departure made little if any impact on Hooper's fluency, the captain looking once again in imperious form as he struck eleven boundaries from the 143 balls he faced.

Earlier, Sarwan spoiled a technically perfect and patient start with a loose drive at Ntini, the ball flying straight to Herschelle Gibbs at backward point. Sarwan struck three fine boundaries in his 16, made off 66 balls, but will be hugely disappointed with the manner of his dismissal.

The West Indians got off to a steady start in the morning, Wavell Hinds blocking Allan Donald away at one end while Gayle attacked at the other. Gayle scored three centuries in the domestic Busta Cup this year and looked in supreme touch, one back-foot drive off a near perfect delivery from South African captain Shaun Pollock rocketing to the mid-off fence.

As Gayle hit out, Hinds dug in to see off Donald. It took only two balls from Kallis to undo him, though, as one angled across the left-hander took a faint edge through to Mark Boucher. Hinds gone for just two made off 46 balls.

Ntini struck next, a very quick delivery forcing a grope from Gayle outside the off stump and a much thicker edge which flew to Daryll Cullinan at first slip. Gayle made 40 off 70 balls and struck eight thunderous boundaries.

Marlon Samuels fell to a sucker punch thrown by Kallis and taken on a glass chin. After a slower bouncer had been hooked to the square-leg boundary to raucous applause, Kallis followed up with a quicker one two balls later, Samuels tried the same shot, but this time it took the splice and looped to Neil McKenzie at mid-on.