Lara was positively unravelling himself from the shackles of negativity, public criticism and self-doubt that have enveloped him since the 5-0 drubbing in the series in South Africa when he played his old adversary Shane Warne firmly to silly mid-on, drifted out of his crease and was run out by Justin Langer's alert underarm flick to the wicketkeeper Ian Healy.
The beleaguered West Indies captain had stroked 11 elegant and confident boundaries in his 62 as he led a positive response to Australia's first innings total of 269. He trudged off, with the West Indies on 149 for 4, to the stunned silence of 16,000 spectators who had celebrated his every shot with Bacchanalian delight.
The steel bands did not beat again as six wickets tumbled for 18 runs off 11.2 overs in the remaining 50 minutes, the last off the final ball, to leave the West Indies on 167 for 9, 102 in arrears and with little chance of avoiding yet another defeat.
Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, who had earlier been hit around by Lara and the newcomer Dave Joseph in a third-wicket partnership of 88, despatched the left-handers Ridley Jacobs lbw and Jimmy Adams, bowled driving, with huge leg-breaks and the incapacitated Roland Holder lbw to a googly off the last ball.
When nightwatchman Pedro Collins kept out three overs of MacGill and Warne with no difficulty, Steve Waugh summoned his premier fast bowler, Glenn McGrath, who sent back Collins and Curtly Ambrose in his first over.
It is the type of capitulation that became standard fare in South Africa, but it was accentuated here by the absence of two middle-order stalwarts, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, out with a damaged shoulder, and Carl Hooper, away in Adelaide tending to his seriously ill son.
Australia initially gained the pscyhological advantage through an utterly frustrating last-wicket partnership of 66, the highest of their innings, between Jason Gillespie and McGrath, neither of whom have any great batting credentials.
It pushed Australia from a modest 203 for 9, following three wickets to the deserving Ambrose, to 269, a commanding total against a suspect batting team.
They then removed the openers, Suruj Ragoonath victim of a chaotic run out for nine on debut, and Sherwin Campbell, beaten by a full length off- cutter from McGrath and lbw for nine even before Waugh had turned to his spinners.
Once more, Lara found himself entering at No 4 in a crisis. He received the usual rapturous reception his fellow Trinidadians but, publicly berated by the West Indies Board for his lack of leadership on the recent ill- fated tour of South Africa and named captain only for the first two Tests, he was under enormous pressure.
His immediate adversary was McGrath, who so troubled him in their last series in Australia three seasons ago, that he dismissed him cheaply five times in his first six innings. He went to tea with six to his name after an agonising wait while third umpire Clyde Cumberbatch finally determined that a run- out call against Joseph on McGrath's return to wicket-keeper Ian Healy was too close to call. On resumption, he and Joseph, a solidly built 29-year-old right-hander from Viv Richards' Antigua and blessed with Richards' belligerent approach, set about the bowling with such gusto that the Australian total began to look merely modest.
Warne and MacGill seldom beat the bat, but Waugh always had the admirable McGrath up his sleeve. He recalled him after Joseph had driven MacGill for four and hoisted him straight for six to raise the 100 and reached his 50 with an on drive and a cut for fours off Warne.
His first ball won umpire Peter Willey's lbw verdict against Joseph and once fate betrayed Lara six overs later, the rot set in for the West Indies.Reuse content