Rain foils Lara

Sydney: Brian Lara finally found the form that has made him the game's most devastating batsman. But nothing else changed for the West Indies in their fourth match in the Carlton Series against Australia here last night. Lara was in full flow with 116 off 106 balls and had just crashed sixes off Andrew Symonds and Shane Warne when torrential rain intervened to end the match and earn Australia victory by 28 runs under the Duckworth/Lewis system for deciding interrupted matches.

The West Indies were 211 for eight from 42.4 overs going after Australia's formidable 50-overs total of 277 for four.

With only fast bowlers Colin Stuart and Marlon Black left as Lara's partners, it would have needed a mighty effort from the rampant left-hander to prevent Australia claiming their third win over the West Indies in as many matches.

Lara's masterly strokeplay, that brought ten fours in addition to his sixes, followed scores of 28, 21 and 19 in earlier matches and a below-par Test series in which he averaged 32.10.

His only scare was at 13 when he slashed so low to Mark Waugh at backward point even the television replay couldn't determine whether the catch was clean. Otherwise, Lara kept a crowd of almost 50 000 entertained.

And otherwise, the West Indies' performance followed the pattern of slackness that has characterised their cricket all season.

Their bowling lacked consistency or plan, they dropped vital catches and no batsman offered Lara necessary support.

Australia's topscorer Ricky Ponting was given two lives on his way to 93 off 77 balls.

He was seven when he swept off-spinner Marlon Samuels, the West Indies' most economical bowler, straight to short fine-leg where Nixon McLean spilled the lap-high chance.

He was 50 when he flat-batted Black hard to Stuart who dropped the catch at mid-on.

Ponting's response was to club the next three balls from the unfortunate bowler to the boundary, adding 43 off 22 balls following Stuart's miss.

Australia scored 148 off the last 20 overs as Jimmy Adams' use of Ricardo Powell's off-spin for two overs cost 22 runs and Black and Stuart were hammered to all parts of the ground.

The hosts were once more given a strong platform by Adam Gilchrist and Mark Waugh who followed their opening stand of 206 in Brisbane on Sunday with 98 before they fell to catches in the deep by Powell within three overs and 11 runs of each other.

The course of the innings, if not the match, would have been altered had McLean taken his chance but the West Indies could not contain Ponting and his remaining partners.

The West Indies used Ridley Jacobs as opener for the first time since last year's World Cup but the combination of left-arm fast bowler Nathan Bracken and Shane Warne at first slip accounted for Wavell Hinds in the second over and Jacobs in the tenth.

Wickets fell regularly, and just when Lara seemed to have the needed support, Powell was caught in the deep off Warne to end a stand of 66 off 11.3 overs.

Warne's leg-break quickly left Laurie Williams stranded for a stumping and McLean was lbw for the only duck of the match. It was then all up to Lara but the rain denied him the chance of creating an unlikely victory.

The West Indies have four more preliminary matches. Three are against Zimbabwe, who they next play here on Tuesday, and the other, against Australia in Adelaide Friday week.