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West Indies v Australia, 4th Test at St Johns, Antigua - Match Report

Report by Jon Cocks 14/05/03

"It's all very well to be playing the game in the right spirit when things are going your way," said a disapproving ACB chief James Sutherland from Australia, after absorbing the Day Four onfield hostility from the Caribbean," but if things are not going your way, that's when the real test is on. If you can't carry yourself in the true spirit of the game at those times, perhaps you need to have a good look at yourself."

Could this presage a new order and approach by Australian team management? Steve Waugh was officially directed to control his players, after he was apparently seen to condone the white-hot confrontations between his players and the West Indians during the final test of the 2003 Test match series, which concluded in a record-breaking run-chase to get 418 and a famous three-wicket victory to the hosts.

The concluding Test of the series, a dead rubber given Australia’s 3-0 lead and retention of the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy, might have been quickly forgotten as something of an afterthought, a concluding fixture of little significance in a crowded program for both nations. Australia had already reclaimed the ICC Test Match Championship Mace.

What else could this somewhat redundant-seeming fixture offer? Eventual Man-of-the-Series Ricky Ponting had to miss it due to illness, allowing Martin Love to play. After Steve Waugh won the toss and elected to bat, it quickly became apparent that the pitch would be lively, a description that would seriously understate the drama that would unfold over the five days of play that unfolded.

By the end of Day One, though, when young Jamaican paceman Jermaine Lawson had captured seven Australian wickets and come under scrutiny as an alleged chucker over his hyper-extended bowling arm, it was clear that the Test at the home of Viv Richards, Richie Richardson and Curtley Ambrose would be anything but an afterthought.

No Australian batsman reached fifty. That the West Indians matched the Australian 240 was due in no small measure again to the captain. When Australia had been dismissed and the hosts went in at 2-47, pundits predicted a three-day test. Omari Banks continued his good off-spinning work from his debut Test and Merv Dillon provided good support.

Brian Lara exchanged sharp words with Matt Hayden and Darren Lehmann before he faced his first ball from Brett Lee, which he cut over point for six. His aggressive 68 was curtailed by the irrepressible Andy Bichel, who has made a habit of dismissing the Trinidadian master, this time caught by the dependable Justin Langer.

The West Indians slumped to 6-140 by lunch on Day Two. Nothing even remotely foreshadowed the extraordinary turnaround that would take place in regard to the batting, until after the last two wickets managed a useful 43.

Hayden and Langer slaughtered the West Indian bowling in an unbroken partnership that took the Australian second innings score to 0-177 at the end of Day Two. The score advanced from 100 to 150 in only five overs, as both batsmen smashed the ball to the boundary on all parts of St John’s. On Day Three the Australian openers raised their fifth 200 opening stand in nineteen Tests.

Umpire Shepherd’s superstitions appeared founded when Langer went for a ‘Nelson’, presaging an unhappy time for the experienced English umpire. He would have to intervene in almost unprecedented Day Four hostility and suffer harsh criticism for a bad decision against Ridley Jacobs, in which he allowed a first-ball caught behind decision that struck the wicket-keeper on the elbow.

Hayden was finally dismissed for a punishing 177, but not before Gilchrist, Love and Lehmann all departed inexpensively and the hosts began to sense that they were not out of the contest. Steve Waugh’s last Test knock in the Caribbean saw him depart unbeaten on 45, but the lower order could not stick around long enough for him to get one last half century. Australia still managed to set the West Indies an improbable 418 for victory, with more than two days’ play available if they were good enough.

The onfield hostility that would emerge on Day Four appeared to begin with Lara’s aggressive attitude on Day Two, but exploded into spiteful confrontation between West Indian vice captain Ramnaresh Sarwan and Glenn McGrath. The former appeared to taunt the latter over his wife Jane’s well-documented cancer problems, but not before some old-fashioned Caribbean batting fireworks.

Gayle and Smith were dismissed early on Day Four and when Ganga went with the score on just 74, a miracle was needed. Brian Lara continued his assault on the Australian attack, passing Ricky Ponting as the series’ highest scorer, before falling to MacGill, trying to hit the legspinner over the long on stand once too often and losing his middle stump. At 4-165, more than 250 runs stood between the hosts and victory.

This merely set the stage for the gifted Sarwan to play the innings of his life to this stage in a courageous and skilful 123-run fifth wicket stand with the calm, steady Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Sarwan (105) played fearlessly , gradually getting under the skin of the Australian fieldsmen as the score began to approach threatening proportions.

McGrath had been seen to block Sarwan’s path in running between the wickets and words had been exchanged, but the touchstone to the fiery onfield conflict came when Sarwan allegedly made the gibes in relation to McGrath’s wife. The Australian paceman reacted very angrily and Umpire Shepherd had to intervene.

The drama heightened when Brett Lee returned to the attack and drew the attempted hook. The ball ballooned into the air and Lee took the return catch. Umpire Shepherd’s bad day got worse when he wrongly gave Jacobs out caught behind from the very next delivery. The ball struck his elbow – not his glove – and Australia appeared on top again.

Composed and courageous, Omari Banks joined Chanderpaul and they added a further 83 before stumps, to bring the hosts within 47 runs of a famous, world-breaking fourth-innings runchase for victory. Man-of-the–Match Chanderpaul added to his reputation with a nerveless 103* at stumps, but was dismissed for the addition of only one run further when play resumed on the final morning, as the Test fell onto the knife’s edge once more.

The rest of the first hour went to the West Indians, as Banks and Drakes set about gathering the runs needed with a combination of defence and controlled aggression mixed with a couple of dashes of good fortune against Gillespie. Drakes smashed MacGill for a huge six to raise the 400.

Drinks were taken and Banks (47*) and Drakes (27*) pushed the score forward, as Waugh gambled on MacGill’s exaggerated turn being able to prise the wicket that was not to be. Drakes crashed a MacGill long hop to the boundary and Test Cricket had a new record as the West Indians celebrated a great win.

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