Brian Lara upstaged Australia with some splendid strokes © AFP

If you want to look beyond the usual suspects for a Champions Trophy likely to be played on pancake-flat Indian pitches, look no further than West Indies, the defending champions. They may have a reputation for brittleness, but each man in the top seven can eviscerate an attack, starting with the combination of Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul at the top of the order. And as Gayle and Brian Lara showed today, even a sedate start is no stumbling block when you can pierce the field, or clear it, with such stunning regularity.

After only 30 came from the first 10 overs, the next 10 produced a whopping 83. And by the time Gayle tried one hoick too many, with the target well within range, his partnership with Lara was worth a staggering 151 from just 19.3 overs. Stuart Clark's seven overs went for 87, and he can thank Michael Hussey for cutting short a spell that might otherwise have put Mick Lewis in the shade.

The old virtues of line and length were no salvation once Lara and Gayle started to cut, drive and bludgeon with impunity. Lofting the ball fearlessly when it was pitched up, they also had no qualms about stepping out to alter the length when the bowlers tried something different. Australia lose the odd game now and then, but seldom have they been taken apart quite like this.

The late stutter triggered by Lara's dismissal took the sheen off things somewhat, but even Australia's fighting qualities weren't enough to salvage a cause that slipped away once Clark lost his run-up and his bearings in mid-innings.

The moment Lara struck a simply glorious off-drive off Bracken to move into double figures, you sensed that a bowling attack missing Glenn McGrath might be on to a hiding. By then, Gayle, who had dawdled 33 balls for his first 13 runs, had also been stirred into action, walloping the hapless Clark over midwicket for a huge six.

Once the momentum shifted, there was just no holding back West Indies. Brett Lee was quick, hostile and among the wickets, while Bracken was tidy, but only Shane Watson, who grows in stature with every outing, appeared capable of halting the inexorable surge to the target. Dan Cullen got some Lara treatment, but can console himself with the fact that better offies than he, including a certain Muttiah Muralitharan, have been washed-rinsed-hung-out-to-dry by a man who plays the turning ball better than any other.

Before the game, Lara had talked of how it was important that his young side focussed on what they could do, rather than worry about what the Australians might do to them, and he led by example with an innings that was pure genius. Once Gayle was out, and the equally cavalier Dwayne Bravo came in, Australia sniffed an opportunity. But perhaps mindful of the collapse that had cost them the opening game, Lara was largely content to whittle away at the target by knocking the ball around and into the gaps. On occasion, his attacking instincts would come to the fore, as Cullen found out when a decent delivery was lofted nonchalantly to the sightscreen. It was almost a pity that the impetuous hook that gave Australia brief hope also deprived him of a richly deserved century.

As a batting exhibition, it eclipsed that put on by Hussey and Brad Haddin earlier in the day. Given the fluency with which he played his strokes and the manner in which he revived an innings that was listing badly at 104 for 5, it was hard to believe that it was Hussey's first outing of the season. Haddin, who offered sterling support during a 165-run stand that came at seven an over, also served notice of his potential, and for once, Adam Gilchrist was barely missed.

They could have done with him at the top of the order though. Hayden scratched around for his 49, miscuing many of his shots, and ran out Simon Katich, who had appeared to be in good touch. And with Ian Bradshaw showing commendable control on a helpful pitch, the innings was becalmed till Hussey and Haddin injected some much-needed late impetus.

Hussey was magnificent, and the more you see of him, the more you're convinced that Australia have replaced one consummate finisher - Michael Bevan - with an even more strokeful one. Having eased to 50 off 52 balls, Hussey then smashed four fours and three massive sixes as Australia finished with a real flourish, taking 91 from the final 10 overs. On most days, 272 would have been enough, but when Lara's on song and Gayle's in the mood, conventional wisdom tends to go out of the window. A long way.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo