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Match reports

AUSTRALIA v WEST INDIES

Toss: Australia.

15-Apr-1998
Toss: Australia.
Allan Border used to think of Perth Tests as away games for Australia. Four years previously, the curator had provided a pitch lush enough for hay-making; West Indies won in three days and he was sacked. This time, the pitch was so thoroughly cut and compacted that it sported large, longitudinal cracks; West Indies, still fearsome on oddball pitches, again won in three days. The new curator, David Crane, kept his job. WACA officials said he had been undone by the extreme heat before the game.
The last time, defeat cost Australia the series and the trophy they coveted most. Now, it cost only a little pride and its significance was unclear. West Indies maintained their perfect record on this ground - five Tests, five wins - though this was the most hollow. Ambrose and Walsh bade adieu to Australia with bags of five. Lara's au revoir was hard-hitting in word and flourishing deed. But the overall balance of the series was unchanged.
For Australia, Reiffel returned and Bevan pushed up to No. 6 and Blewett to No. 3 in place of Langer. For West Indies, Ambrose, Simmons (who had flown in a fortnight previously), Samuels, and Browne replaced Cuffy, Thompson, Griffith and the injured Murray. On an inhumanly hot day - touching 43 degrees Centigrade - Australia batted first, but without conviction. Hayden was out third ball, the ill-starred Taylor was run out by West Indies' slickest fielding of the summer, and they were soon 49 for four. Mark Waugh and Bevan stalled the slide with a stand of 120, Waugh keeping his cool even on this melting day and the mystery of Bevan deepening as he made his highest home Test score on the least likely pitch. The heat forced Walsh to leave the field and acting-captain Lara bowled Ambrose and Bishop in one-over spells. But Ambrose would not be denied and Australia were all out for 243.
Lara came in at 43 for two; when he left, West Indies were in the lead and he had made a century such as only he can make. For him, the cracks closed up and the bounce evened out, or so it seemed. His innings grew like a symphony, two hours for the first fifty, just over an hour for the second, and then a crescendo as he hit Warne for 26 in 14 balls. It was Lara's first century against Australia since his 277 at Sydney four years earlier - and his only first-class hundred on the tour. Samuels kept him dogged company in a stand of 208, batting five and a half hours for 76. His stubbornness, a rash of no-balls and the searing heat revived Australia's propensity towards petulance. Tempers rose and words were exchanged, bringing admonitions from the umpires and, at the press conference, from Lara. Next morning, Lara acted as a runner for Walsh, an unusual gambit for a vice-captain, causing such antagonism that the umpires dressed down both captains on the field.
Even Taylor seemed to lose his captaincy bearings, bowling Warne for only two overs in a session at the height of the Lara-Samuels stand. Eventually, Warne was to dismiss both, half an hour apart, but Hooper's silky fifty helped to stretch the lead to 141. Reiffel took four of the last five - including Simmons, for the third duck of his three-innings tour - and the final wicket came when an ingenious backhand flick from Healy ran out Ambrose, whose bat had jammed in one of the cracks.
Once Ambrose had Taylor caught at the wicket and bowled Blewett with a grubber, it was uncertain which was more cracked, the pitch or Australia's psyche. Only Blewett and Mark Waugh could blame the wicket unconditionally; only Hayden, sixth out for 47, and later Healy and Warne showed any fight. Australia spent eight wickets regaining the lead, and West Indies might not have needed to bat again but for their profligacy with extras. Ambrose bowled 15 no-balls in his last two overs in Australia, an ill-fitting farewell flourish.
The hero of the hour was Walsh, who was carrying a hamstring injury and had not been sure he would bowl at all. He meant to bowl just one over of relief for Ambrose before lunch but ended up bowling 20 unchanged for five more wickets. He and Ambrose doffed their caps and bowed to the crowd before the West Indies openers thrashed out the runs needed for victory and the trophy was presented to Taylor. Thus it was that both captains had the last laugh simultaneously, though the bad temper obscured the good humour. It may still be rankling when the teams meet again.
Man of the Match: C. E. L. Ambrose.
Man of the Series: G. D. McGrath.
Attendance: 27,058.
Close of play: First day, West Indies 25-0 (S. L. Campbell 20*, R. G. Samuels 0*); Second day, West Indies 353-7 (C. L. Hooper 57*, I. R. Bishop 5*).