Match Report by Jon Cocks 25/04/03
Steve Waugh is nothing, if not a student of test Cricket. Requiring the hosts to break the fourth innings run-chase record (406) by one to get up in this match, gave the Windies a tiny sniff of glory. The Ian Chappell school of declarations allows the opposition this sniff, so that both sides can fight it out and the best team will emerge. However, the West Indies were always going to need Lara to get a double century on the last day to win this one.
The Second test was one of batting firsts: Ponting's first Test double century, Lehmann's maiden Test ton, Gilly's first ton vs the Windies, not to forget Lara's and Ganga's first Test tons on their home ground. Despite the genius of Trinidadian hero Brian Lara (91 & 122), Australia retained the Sir Frank Worrell trophy and will be all the stronger with the return of Glenn McGrath for the Third Test in Barbados.
It was also the test in which the leading contemporary Test cricket runscorer did not even bat and the side that lost only seven wickets for the match was in some danger of losing the Test on the last day. And while on the theme of ‘firsts’, this match saw the West Indian Test Match debuts of Carlton Baugh – with a creditable display behind the stumps - and Dave Bernard Junior.
On a low note, has there even been a more incompetent display of test match umpiring than that by Asoka de Silva? The two LBWs on day One against Langer and Hayden were palpably not out, and he was seen not to be watching Baugh’s stumping of Ponting properly before he adjudged the Australian vice captain out. Langer
suffered a repeat LBW injustice in the second innings, as the man dubbed ‘A Shocker’ seemed to have difficulty in determining the line of the off stump.
On Day One, Darren Lehmann’s 160 formed part of a record third wicket 315 with Ricky Ponting for Australia that set up a monolithic 3-391, slaughtering the three specialist West Indian pacemen and the four part-timers. The West Indian selection of only three specialist bowlers was a tacit admission of their perceived inability to bowl Australia out. Stacking the batting seemed to indicate their desire to play for a draw.
Many pundits liken Lehmann's innovative use of the crease to ugliness, while the scribes use the verbs 'club' or 'smash' to describe the shots that cause the ball to land ten rows back at mid wicket or backward square. There is a kind of universal truth in these honest blows. He's been landing them for a long time now and – thirteen years after his maiden first class century - he finally achieved his moment in the sun, enjoying a slice of luck on 65, when Umpire Koertzen appeared not to see the edge taken by Baugh.
Ricky Ponting’s 206 was as commanding a test innings as you could wish to see. A streak of ruthlessness now characterises his work. Loose shots have been eliminated, but a hint of width of shortness of length are
spanked mercilessly. After this innings and his majestic 140* in the World Cup Final, Ponting has arrived as one of contemporary cricket’s leading batsmen.
It is a measure of Australian confidence that Waugh could declare twice and still win the match by 118 runs. Legions of Aussies would have breathed easier, had Waugh delayed either or even both closures. More runs at a faster pace would have made the Australian first innings all the more mountainous. One aim – removing Lara before stumps on day Two – was achieved, but he had sufficient time to score 91.
The Queen’s Park Oval pitch was offering substantial turn by the time the West Indian first innings began, but it was not sharp enough to be really threatening to test class batsmen. Ganga (117) in particular did well, hitting his second successive Test century but Samuels (68) deserves praise as well for bouncing back after a
terrible test in Guyana. The West Indian middle and lower order battled well to stave off the follow on.
Vasbert Drakes showed himself to be a big-hearted team man. The same age as Darren Lehmann, it seems that - like the South Australian - he has had to endure being ignored by the Test selectors for an extended period of time as well. He was the West Indian bowler with the best line and length and a determined late order batsman (24 & 26*).
The spinners' 'bowl-off' remains inconclusive. Hogg bowled before MacGill on Day Three. Was this an indication that Waugh felt the ‘leftie’ from Perth was performing more effectively? MacGill sent down more loose deliveries for a match total of four wickets, while Hogg maintained a better line and length for just two. Intriguingly, Hogg dismissed Lara in the first innings, while MacGill picked him up in the second.
Ponting (45) and Hayden (100*) batted steadily in the first session of Day Four. Lehmann’s breezy 66 was well put together, although he was dropped on 20 in the gully. MacGill's big-turning dismissal of Hinds and Lara's uncertainty against Hogg on the fourth afternoon were strong indicators that quick runs before lunch of Day Five were not a given, but Lara defied Australia, to get the lion’s share of the 103 that were scored.
An unlikely West Indian victory seemed possible, with just under 200 required with seven wickets in hand, despite great fast bowling from both Gillespie and Lee. The former was in the zone and moving the ball late; the latter was fast and hostile, nearly decapitating Lara with one bouncer the ABC commentators described as the ball of the match.
Gillespie was again the best of the Australian bowlers. His 3-50 & 3-36 went at around two an over. The way he got the wickets - beating the bat with pace and skill - highlighted his class. As shown by his ferocious second innings work, Brett Lee appeared to be shaking off his post-World Cup form lapse, readjusting to Test Cricket.
Although Andy Bichel didn't do much with the ball in the first innings, the five bowler policy hit the jackpot with his economical three-wicket spell after lunch on Day Five that punctured the West Indian bubble of hope, before MacGill burst it, dismissing Lara.
In the West Indian second innings of 288, no batsman other than Lara exceeded 35. This is both a measure of the brilliance of the West Indian captain and an indictment of the remainder of the Caribbean batting order, in that the team relies so heavily on the captain, despite a batting order that runs deep to Number eight. He is the best batsman on either team, although Man-of-the-Match Ricky Ponting is not far behind him.
Once again, though, the sum of the parts of the Australian cricket team was too good for that of the West Indians. A champion team should always beat a team of champions. When the beaten team contains only one out-and-out champion, that truism remains, even when that champion is Brian Lara.