Cricket: Langer's innings looks decisive

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA MADE all the running on the third day of the fourth Test here yesterday. The gallop was measured rather than rapid but, with time on their side, they steadily built on a first-innings lead of 81.

Australia had wasted a far more substantial first-innings advantage of 161 in the previous Test in Barbados with slack batting and let the West Indies in for their astonishing one-wicket victory on the back of captain Brian Lara's unbeaten 153. Needing nothing less than a win to square the series and retain the Frank Worrell Trophy they have jealously held since 1995, they were intent on not repeating the mistake.

After closing out the West Indies' first innings for 222, removing the last four wickets for 25 within the first 40 minutes, they found little difficulty in advancing to 209 for 2 at close against some strictly defensive West Indian tactics.

The vistiors are now ahead by 290 with two days remaining. Even on a pitch that has remained ideal for batting throughout and with the always threatening presence of Lara, it is an equation that should allow the bowlers ample time to put the squeeze on the West Indies' batsmen over the final day and a half.

Justin Langer was the hub around which they mounted a recovery after the early loss of Greg Blewett, lbw for seven in Curtly Ambrose's seventh over.

The left-hander added 61 with the aggressive Michael Slater before the opener dragged an ordinary delivery from Courtney Walsh back into his stumps after making 44. He was then joined by Mark Waugh, who has had a poor series, but the brother of the Australian captain finally found his touch to reach 60 by the close and help put on 128 for the third wicket. Langer's 84 is his third half-century in his last four innings.

Australia were given the kick-start they needed in the morning by Glenn McGrath's pace as bowler and fielder. First Australia's fastest and most penetrative bowler, plucked out Nehemiah Perry's off-stump with a perfectly pitched inswinger in the third over of the day.

In the next over Ambrose's ambitious slog off Stuart MacGill's googly skied a catch to Ricky Ponting, leaving Carl Hooper the responsibility of squeezing out as many runs as he could with only the fast bowlers, Corey Collymore and Walsh, to come.

McGrath again spoiled the plan. Seeking to retain the strike from Collymore, Hooper tried to convert a stroke to fine leg off MacGill into two runs but, no longer as feline or a fast as he once was, found himself at least a foot short of his crease as McGrath's powerful, accurate return came over the stumps to wicketkeeper Ian Healy.

It was the tenth time in Tests that Hooper had been run out and it left McGrath with the formality of completing the close of the innings with his third wicket - and his 27th in the series - as Walsh got his leg in front of middle stump to a straight ball.

Third day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 303 (S R Waugh 72no, J L Langer 51; C E L Ambrose 5-94).

WEST INDIES - First Innings

(Overnight: 197 for 6)

C L Hooper run out 47

N O Perry b McGrath 6

C E L Ambrose c Ponting b MacGill 0

C D Collymore not out 11

C A Walsh lbw b McGrath 3

Extras (nb6) 6

Total (76.2 overs) 222

Fall (cont): 7-205 8-206 9-213.

Bowling: McGrath 27.2-9-64-3 (nb3); Dale 18-7-67-2 (nb2); Miller 17-5- 39-2 (nb1); MacGill 14-3-52-2.

AUSTRALIA - Second Innings

G S Blewett lbw b Ambrose 7

M J Slater b Ambrose 44

J L Langer not 84

M E Waugh not out 60

Extras (b2 w1, nb11) 14

Total (for 2, 79 overs) 209

Fall: 1-15, 2-77.

To bat: *S R Waugh, R T Ponting, I A Healy, A C Dale, C R Miller, S C G MacGill, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Ambrose 17-43-46-1; Walsh 21-5-49-1 (nb5); Hooper 14.4.-4-28- 0 (w1); Adams 4.2-2-7-0; Collymore 15-1-49-0 (nb2); Perry 7-0-28-0.

Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and D L Orchard SA).