Up to you, Lara

South Africa are closing in on victory in the fourth Test that has been as good as theirs since the first hour of the third day at the Antigua Recreation Ground.

Only exceptional batting by Brian Lara on a difficult, worn pitch and support from the lower order on the last day today, can prevent them extending their lead in the series to 2-0 and securing the Sir Viv Richards Trophy.

There are a minimum of 90 overs remaining, inevitably more since fast bowlers are unlikely to feature much, and the West Indies, 101 for four, are 222 short of their distant target. No day has produced as many on a slow surface and sluggish outfield.

Cricket logic strongly favours a South African victory. But since that unforgettable day at Kensington Oval two years ago when Lara almost single-handledly defeated Australia with one of the truly great innings, his unbeaten 153, hope is never lost when the champion lefthander is at the crease, as he is now.

But that was then, this is now. Lara has passed through troubled times and his desire, and form, is not what it was then when he had points to prove.

If not him, perhaps it will be Ramnaresh Sarwan's turn to step forward and Ridley Jacobs to display to his fellow Antiguans the grit he has shown elsewhere.

But they will need all the technique, application and luck they can muster, even to make the South Africans fight for their prize. Survival is already difficult against the left-arm spin of Nicky Boje and the slow-medium off-cutters of Lance Klusener on the dry, scuffed surface.

When South Africa declared their prolonged second innings midway through yesterday, the West Indies were challenged to score 323 for an improbable win.

More to the point, they had to bat through the last day and-a-half to save the match.

Their hopes were effectively dashed when captain Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were dismissed within eight balls and three runs of each other inside the last half-hour.

Left-handed openers Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds had provided an encouraging start, batting through the first hour, before both fell to Boje to close catches in which the pad was involved.

Gayle essayed an ugly half-sweep that took the inside-edge and rebounded to Neil McKenzie at silly point at 34 in the 16th over.

Hinds appeared to get the benefit of two bat-pad appeals, also off Boje, but was decidedly unlucky when umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan ruled him caught at square short-leg an hour and 25 minutes into the innings.

The ball rebounded from pad, with bat nowhere in the vicinity, but Hinds had to go. In such conditions, the umpires' task is complicated with the several bat-pad decisions but this was too clearcut to be excused.

As Hinds departed, Hooper appeared, promoting himself above Lara, right-hander for left-hander, to counter Boje's spin.

He played for three-quarters of an hour with little bother but then midjudged a pull off Klusener and skied a catch that McKenzie gathered in trotting around from mid-on. It was a dismissal that brought back painful memories of Hooper's earlier life.

In the next over the reliable Chanderpaul, one of six left-handers in the West Indies' 11, went back to Boje after an hour and 25 minutes of diligent application, and was lbw.

They were two heavy body blows to the West Indies but Lara and Sarwan saw out the day.

Once they dismissed the West Indies for 140 in their first innings early on the third day for a lead of 107, South Africa have had ample time and runs to complete their mission. Only defensive West Indies bowling with confining field placings delayed their second innings declaration at 215 for seven that took them 123 overs to compile.

The first half of the day was remarkable only for another marathon spell from Courtney Walsh.

The veteran fast bowler is the oldest player in international cricket at 38 and, unless he changes his mind, is one Test away from retirement after 17 years in the service of the West Indies.

Yet, with Merv Dillon unable to bowl with his sprained right thumb, Walsh kept going for 12 consecutive overs in the first hour and 40 minutes. He did so because he still loves bowling and he added three wickets to his one of the previous day, stretching his Test record tally to 513.

He bowled Neil McKenzie in his first over and, after Daryll Cullinan cut Neil McGarrell into slip's lap, he removed the out-of-touch Klusener and Boucher. He would have had another victim, but Gayle at slip dropped Kallis' edge.

It would be a travesty if Walsh has to walk from the field today, last man out with another West Indies defeat, as he has had to do repeatedly of late.But it looks as if he will.