Cricket: Lara left in lurch again

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STEVE WAUGH'S typically efficient, even 100 in his second Test as Australia's captain countered a spirited West Indies' bowling effort on the opening day of the Second Test at Sabina Park here yesterday. But his fast bowlers then once more dismantled the opposition's fragile top order in the last hour and a half to secure a commanding position.

Waugh's 18th Test hundred could not guarantee the commanding total he was seeking after winning the toss for the second successive match. Even so, 256 is now a mountain to a West Indies team who have been psychologically shaken by their 51 all out in a shocking defeat in the First Test and who are shorn of class and experience by the continuing absence of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper.

They tottered to 37 for 4 by the time fading light halted play with 1.3 of the available 16 overs remaining. Now they have to depend on the type of innings they have not seen for some time from their beleaguered captain, Brian Lara, to make some sort of a fight of the match.

Jason Gillespie initiated the slump with an lbw verdict against the inadequate opener Suruj Ragoonath. Glenn McGrath followed up by swiftly removing the new No 3, Lincoln Roberts, sacrificed in an unaccostomed position and out without scoring on his debut, the other opener Sherwin Campbell and Dave Joseph.

Lara survived shakily through the last hour and carries his team's hopes of a reasonable first-innings response on his overburdened shoulders.

Waugh's previous innings at Sabina Park was the 200 that was mainly responsible for the victory by which Australian regained the Frank Worrell Trophy five years ago. While paying due care and attention to Walsh and his perennial colleague, Curtly Ambrose, he never allowed the inexperienced support bowlers to settle into a rhythm.

Most of his 11 fours were off the left-armer Pedro Collins, in his Second Test, and the Jamaican off-spinner Nehemiah Perry, who was liberal with bad balls on his debut. He also clouted a six over midwicket off Perry, but Collins eventually gained some satisfaction by removing him to a slip catch, the last of his three wickets which rounded off the innings.

The circumstances of Waugh's innings were not dissimilar to those of 1995. He strode in to join his brother at 46 for 3 this time, as against 79 for 3 then, with West Indians on and off the field inspired by three wickets by Jamaica's most beloved cricketer, the indefatigable Walsh.

Five years ago, the twins added 231, with Mark contributing 126. Now they took the fight to their opponents and had comfortably, and quickly, raised 112 together when a freak delivery separated them and altered the course of the Australian innings

Mark had stroked the ball superbly in 67 with eight fours and two effortless straight sixes off Perry, and was looking certain to reach his 17th Test hundred, when Perry hit his off-stump an inch from the base with what is aptly described in these parts as a "ground-eater". Three wickets then fell for 19 runs in the half-hour before tea as the West Indies regained the early control they had established in the first session through Walsh.

Steve Waugh ensured that a tea-time 184 for 6 did not deteriorate into anything more inadequate than the eventual total, adding 48 off 48 balls with Shane Warne before Collins, distinctly sharp from round the wicket, removed Warne, Stuart MacGill and, finally, Waugh himself. Ambrose gained his first, deserved wicket, bowling Gillespie off-stump, but Australia's demise was only a prelude to another limp West Indian batting performance. And Warne and MacGill are yet to put the prediction that the pitch will aid their spin to test.