Victory in sight

The West Indies have learnt by recent bitter experience not to count their chickens before they hatch.

The way things have been these past few years, they have to be out of their shells and chirping loudly before any celebrations can begin.

Yet, the fifth and final Test has incubated nicely over the first four days and their first victory since last June 13 matches ago is ready for hatching.

All that is needed now to finish it off is the discipline and patience that have got the situation to its promising stage.

Throughout the West Indies have shown the resilience that has been so markedly absent from their cricket for so many years and have been unquestionably the better team.

The upshot has been their strongest position since they blew a first innings lead of 143 over England at Lord's with an all-out 54 in their second innings ten months and 14 Tests ago.

Mainly through their toughest character, Ridley Jacobs, they recovered from the insecurity of 126 for five in their second innings on the fourth day to total 301.

It left South Africa with a colossal task to keep their unbeaten sequence of 12 Tests intact and extend their lead in the series to 3-0.

The challenge was 386 over the last five sessions of the match. No South African team, before or since apartheid, has ever got near that to win a Test and, even though eight of their 11 have Test hundreds to their name, it is a distant goal.

By the close of the day, extended by an hour because of three rain breaks, the West Indies had got rid of three of them for 140, including Herschelle Gibbs and Daryll Cullinan, their two leading scorers in the series with over 400 runs each.

South Africa start the last day needing another 246 off the minimum requirement of 90 overs and the West Indies need another seven wickets.

It is a victory that would not only be an appropriate parting gift for Courtney Walsh in his farewell Test but a stimulating result for West Indies cricket that has suffered such pain for so long.

They made the necessary inroads into the South African innings through the same commitment that has marked their game throughout.

In a lively, accurate spell before tea, Merv Dillon removed the lefthanded Gary Kirsten, caught off the under edge as he belatedly pulled his bat out of the path of a lifter over off-stump, delivered from round the wicket.

The West Indies were realistic enough to know not to expect another South African collapse as in their first innings 141. Gibbs, as adventurous as always, and Neil McKenzie, promoted to No. 3 for the third time in the series, made them work for an hour and 40 minutes while adding 65.

Finally, Gibbs' patience was exhausted as Dinanath Ramnarine and Hooper contained him after an after-tea flourish in which he punished Dillon's looseness that brought 29 runs from four overs.

Heaving an ugly sweep at Hooper, Gibbs was bowled, an embarrasing end to a fruitful series for the opener.

Cullinan, South Africa's most prolific batsman with hundreds at Queen's Park and Kensington already in the series, replaced Gibbs.

He played with few problems before Hooper recalled Walsh for a second spell.

The man of the moment had been off the field receiving attention and a soothing injection after a painful blow to the ankle while batting earlier in the day. The Sabina crowd greeted his return with the understandable reception and almost brought the house down when his third ball beat Cullinan coming forward for umpire Steve Bucknor's lbw decision.

Another three-quarters of an hour remained and McKenzie and Jacques Kallis only survived it with a few alarms.

Kallis edged Ramnarine a foot short of Chris Gayle at slip. McKenzie just managed to scramble back into his ground before Jacobs broke the stumps after one from Ramnarine that deflected from the pads. McKenzie again got the benefit of Bucknor's little doubt on an lbw claim from Walsh.

The West Indies' position was already strong when the day started on a humid morning with clouds hovering low over the Blue Mountains. The lead was already 339 but captain Hooper called for another 30.

He got more, even after Ramnarine was dubiously caught at first slip by Cullinan off Shaun Pollock's third ball of the day.

Tossing the ball in the air as he fell backwards and diving forward to try to gather it in again, Cullinan did not seem to have control of the ball but umpire Srinivas Ventararaghavan raised his finger all the same.

It made no significant difference. In between a break for one of the day's three showers, Jacobs and Cameron Cuffy raised a further 32 before Jacobs swung his hook off Lance Klusener to deep square-leg.

His 85, occupying just over four hours all told, was made while 161 were scored, an invaluable contribution from an invaluable player.

As Walsh walked to the wicket for the last time in Test cricket, the South Africans formed a guard of honour as the Englishmen did at the Oval last August and the Australians did at the SCG last January. It was another touching tribute to a greatly admired sportsman.

Walsh at least avoided adding to his record 43 Test ducks before he skewed a catch to cover. Soon he was back, striving for the result he is desperate to achieve.