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Lara and Sarwan give Windies hope as Australia struggle on dead pitch

Close West Indies 328 and 187 for 3 (Sarwan 58*, Lara 41*) trail Australia 605 for 9 (Waugh 115, Ponting 113, Lehmann 96) by 90 runs

On a pitch that might have been lifted directly from the SnooziSleep beds emporium, West Indies waded through 87 powder-puff overs to keep alive their hopes of avoiding a series whitewash. By the close of the fourth day, and after following on, Ramnaresh Sarwan and an under-the-weather Brian Lara had eased along to 187 for 3.

Though West Indies still trailed Australia's first innings by the small matter of 90 runs, Sarwan and Lara had batted with a lack of fuss more usually associated with a bore-draw in Lahore. That they had done so against the finest team in the world, and on the home ground of such mighty fast bowlers as Malcolm Marshall and Wes Hall, was an affront to the traditions of the game.

Australia tried every option. Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Steve Waugh turned their arms over, in between frequent attempts to have the battle-scarred ball replaced. And, with every delivery scuttling through to a very harassed keeper, Adam Gilchrist even tried standing up to Glenn McGrath, the greatest fast bowler of the modern era. For McGrath, it was a particularly trying day - he has not gone wicketless in a Test since West Indies were last in Australia, at Melbourne in 2000-01, 27 matches ago - but a breakthrough was beyond even his inestimable powers.

The first hour of the day gave Australia ample warning of the stodge to come, as West Indies' ninth-wicket pair of Vasbert Drakes and Tino Best extended their partnership to 33. Best, who kept his home crowd amused with some hyperactive shadow-batting between deliveries, finished on 20 not out, his highest first-class score of the season. Although Stuart MacGill eventually ended the fun as Waugh enforced the follow-on, Chris Gayle and Devon Smith batted out the remainder of the session with nonchalance.

As in the first innings, carelessness was West Indies's principal enemy. Smith was caught cold immediately after lunch, trapped plumb lbw by Brett Lee, and Lee struck again eight overs later, as Daren Ganga's front boot was crushed by the perfect inswinging yorker. But the most culpable victim of complacency was Gayle.

Gayle had picked up where he had left off in the first innings, driving on the up through the covers and hooking in front of square, and went to the break on an excellent 56 not out. But to the very first ball after tea, Gayle heaved down the pitch and was stumped by a country mile, off the bowling of MacGill, who had bowled just one over in the second session.

There were no such lapses from Sarwan, however. After his 40 in the first innings, he was again in fine touch with a nice line in midwicket whips and punches through the covers. With doubts still surrounding Lara's health, Sarwan was once again the de facto captain and the responsibility was bringing the best out of him, although on 14, he was fortunate to survive when Andy Bichel spilled a low return catch.

Lara did in fact appear at the fall of Gayle's wicket - and the blandness of the pitch was more than an adequate tonic for whatever mystery illness he is suffering. He announced his arrival with a first-ball four off MacGill, and had added two more by the close, including one in the very last over of the day, off a Lehmann long-hop.

Australia will be able to take the new ball within eight overs of the resumption tomorrow, but if West Indies negotiate that tricky period, it will not be beyond their powers to salvage this match. As Waugh said, only the Australians would be able to win on a pitch like this - tomorrow will tell whether they really can transcend the conditions.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo Ltd.