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Australia in control after day of hard graft at Bridgetown

Close West Indies 291 for 8 (Drakes 4*) trail Australia 605 for 9 (Waugh 115, Ponting 113, Lehmann 96) by 314 runs

It's not often that Australia's bowling attack is made to work for its wickets, but today, on a pitch that Steve Waugh described as the slowest of his career, they were forced to graft every step of the way. In each of day's three sessions, West Indies appeared to have taken confident strides towards salvaging the match, and four times they were rocked back by on their heels by a combination of skill, determination and downright jamminess.

Rarely has that old adage - "always add two wickets to the total" - been so categorically demonstrated. The morning had belonged to a bold, counterattacking stand from Chris Gayle and Devon Smith ... until Jason Gillespie changed the script with lunch in the air. Most of the afternoon was Ramnaresh Sarwan's and Daren Ganga's, as they stodged their way through 26 overs, only to throw away the initiative against the spinners.

And the pattern was completed when Lee and Gillespie broke through with consecutive new-ball overs in the evening session. A half-fit Brian Lara, who hadn't been expected to bat after being laid low with suspected chickenpox, was forced off his sick-bed to stem the tide. But, after battling bravely for an hour and 20 minutes, he was sawn off by a shocking decision from umpire Venkat with five overs remaining, and sure enough, his partner, Carlton Baugh, was caught at bat-pad off Stuart MacGill's final delivery to complete a deflating day.

The day began optimistically for West Indies, who seemed emboldened by Lara's absence. In the morning, Gayle and Smith batted with great common sense and no little flair, adding a further 50 runs to their overnight 89. But, just as the Windies were contemplating a hearty lunch (in a separate room to their captain, of course), Gillespie returned for a searing spell from around the wicket.

Moving the ball both ways at will, Gillespie accounted for Gayle, whom he had dropped at mid-on in the first half-hour, in textbook fashion. Three consecutive induckers to the left-handed Gayle were followed by an immaculate legcutter that pitched on off and held its line to clip the bails (139 for 1).

In Gillespie's very next over, Smith's penchant for the drive proved his undoing, as he played inside another jaffa and snicked a fine edge to Gilchrist. After no wickets in 46 overs, two had fallen in three. The day's pattern was set.

In the afternoon, Sarwan and Ganga gnawed away at the day's overs, adding 63 runs in 28 overs. But with the new ball looming and Darren Lehmann serving up an assortment of pies, Ganga could stand it no longer - and slapped a waist-high full-toss obligingly to Andy Bichel at mid-on. In the very next over, worse was to follow, when Shivnarine Chanderpaul dragged his first ball, a MacGill long-hop, down the throat of Brett Lee at midwicket (206 for 4). All West Indies' good work had been ruined.

And it had been impressive stuff from Sarwan and Ganga. The afternoon session was not a pretty sight - only three boundaries were scored - but it was no less compelling for that. Ganga, with consecutive centuries under his belt, was calm and authoritative and swept MacGill with assurance.

But by the evening, it was a case of damage limitation. Sarwan and the debutant Omari Banks added 39 for the fifth wicket, but both were undone by the new ball and a lack of footwork. Sarwan was particularly culpable, hanging his bat out to dry to Lee for 40, and with his senior partner gone, Banks immediately slashed Gillespie to Ponting at second slip.

Nobody had realised Lara was even at the ground as the sixth wicket fell, so his arrival at the crease was greeted with a mighty cheer and an immediate buzz of optimism. And when, on 9, he was reprieved by Ponting at slip Bridgetown sensed another miracle. In fairness to Ponting, it was one of the few balls that carried on a hopelessly dead track. But whatever illness Lara has, it certainly isn't catching.

The last time Lara was ailing at the crease - in Colombo in September last year - he cracked a matchwinning century before being rushed to hospital with hepatitis. But on that occasion he was facing the pre-World Cup Kenyans, not the mighty Aussies. And yet, having seen off the worst of the new ball with the determined Carlton Baugh for company, Lara was a sure bet to see out the evening.

Umpire Venkat deemed otherwise, and Bichel picked up the flukiest wicket of his annus mirablis as Lara deflected a massive inside-edge onto his pads and was given out lbw for 14. Baugh then nudged MacGill to Ponting at bat-pad in the very last over of the day. Only the Australians would be able to force a result on a wicket like this. With an advantage of more than 300 runs and two days remaining, they surely will.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo Ltd.