Cricket: Healy in his element

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The Independent Online
None of their current players typifies the traditional image of the Australian character better than Ian Healy. It has been in stark evidence on the first two days of the Test series against the West Indies which all Australia is convinced will confirm them as the strongest team in the world.

Healy's flawless, unbeaten 161, which was principally responsible for Australia's commanding position at 479 all out, began an hour after tea on the first day in the midst of potential crisis, both team and personal. Australia, put in to bat, had just lost two wickets to successive balls from the persevering West Indies captain, Courtney Walsh, and were 196 for five with only the four bowlers to follow. As he emerged into the dazzling sunlight, Healy was also conscious that the wicket-keeping position he has held since 1988 was being challenged by Adam Gilchrist, seven years his junior and with a pile of runs at domestic level to support his case.

Healy's response was typical of the single-minded tenacity for which Australians have long been renowned. In confident control from the moment he came in, he dominated proceedings until the last wicket fell nearly 24 hours later at a total which should be good enough to force victory against opponents too heavily dependent on one batsman, Brian Lara, and who lost both openers by stumps.

There are no airs and graces about Healy's batting. A stylist he is not, but he restricts himself mainly to the strokes with which he is most comfortable, the cut and the pull. The four West Indies fast bowlers obliged with a liberal dose of short balls and he simply milked the disappointing off- spin of Carl Hooper when it was used for variety.

He out-scored all of his partners in a succession of important stands - 142 with Steve Waugh, who made 66 but was not at his best, 69 with Paul Reiffel and 62 with Shane Warne.

In six chanceless hours in the middle, he stroked 19 fours as he pressed on to the highest score in Tests by an Australian wicket-keeper, surpassing Rodney Marsh's 132 against New Zealand in Adelaide 23 years ago. It was his third Test hundred, yet he has never scored one at the lower first-class level, a significant statistic.

He is the first native Queenslander to score a hundred in a Gabba Test, each landmark being ecstatically acclaimed around the ground, which with its new ultra-modern grandstand is unrecognisable from 1960 when the celebrated tie between these teams gave birth to the Frank Worrell Trophy they have contested ever since.

As Australia's total mounted, the monotony of the West Indies' bowling in unhelpful conditions was once more exposed. This was the fifth time in their last six Tests that the opposition has amassed over 400 in their first innings.

Walsh bowled admirably for his four for 112 from 35 overs and he and Curtly Ambrose were desperately unlucky on the opening day when the ball repeatedly beat or touched uncertain outside edges without gaining wickets. But they are both well into their thirties and not as incisive as they once were while Ian Bishop and Kenny Benjamin have the spectre of injury, which has dogged both their careers, always at the back of their minds.

The time for a change in established strategy is at hand but the West Indies are stuck for choice in this series. A long, hard season lies ahead.

The unreliability of the opening pair is another West Indian concern, heightened in the closing stages when both the left-handed Robert Samuels and Sherwin Campbell fell to edged catches. Inevitably, Healy held the first.

Second day; West Indies won toss

AUSTRALIA - First innings

(Overnight 282-5)

S R Waugh c Lara b Bishop 66

=I A Healy not out 161

P R Reiffel c and b Walsh 20

S K Warne c and b Bishop 24

M S Kasprowicz c Benjamin b Bishop 6

G D McGrath b Benjamin 0

Extras (lb8 nb22 w3) 33

Total (151 overs) 479

Fall: 6-338, 7-407, 8-468, 9-477.

Bowling: Ambrose 34-4-93-1;Walsh 35-6-112-4; Bishop 30-2-105-3; Benjamin 33-6-97-2; Hooper 19-3-64-0.

WEST INDIES - First innings

S L Campbell c Warne b Reiffel 18

R G Samuels c Healy b McGrath 10

B C Lara not out 19

C L Hooper not out 4

Extras (lb2 w1 nb7) 10

Total (for 2, 27 overs) 61

Fall: 1-30 2-43.

To bat: S Chanderpaul, J C Adams, =C O Browne, I R Bishop, C E L Ambrose, K C G Benjamin, *C A Walsh.

Bowling: McGrath 8-4-10-1; Reiffel 7-1-24-1; Kasprowicz 6-2-12-0; Warne 5-1-12-0; S Waugh 1-0-1-0.

Umpires: C Mitchley (SA) and S Randell (Aus)