AS SO many others have done over the years, Australia's batsmen found Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh a handful in the early exchanges of the third Test yesterday.
The two champion West Indian fast bowlers were quick to exploit a favourable pitch at Kensington Oval that has been the scene of so many of their most notable triumphs. In the space of 18 balls either side of the first drinks break, they removed the openers Matthew Elliott, for nine, and Michael Slater, for 22, and Mark Waugh for a second-ball duck.
Justin Langer and his captain, Steve Waugh, checked the slide with a positive, unbroken partnership of 42 in the 50 minutes to lunch, when Australia were 78 for 3.
His continuing faith in choosing both leg-spinners, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, committed Steve Waugh to batting for the third successive time in the series on winning the toss. With the sharp swing bowling of Adam Dale instead to support Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, he might have been inclined to bowl. But he has stoutly defended Warne against suggestions that he is not bowling well enough to merit his place.
The pitch was freshened by persistent early morning rain that only allowed the covers to be removed an hour and a half before the start. Ambrose and Walsh were soon moving the ball sharply each way, but it took a change of ends for them to have an effect.
Walsh induced a tentative prod outside off-stump from Elliott, who edged to the wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs.
Slater was typically positive from the start, cutting and pulling Walsh to the boundary and, when the off-spinner Nehemiah Perry was given an over to allow the fast bowlers' a changeover, he stepped out to hoist him straight on to the roof of the members' George Challenor Stand.
When Ambrose returned, he broke off halfway through his first over to change his boots. When he came back, he produced a perfectly pitched outswinger that Slater could only edge to Brian Lara at first slip. Slater passed the drinks trolley, and Mark Waugh, on his way to the dressing room. On resumption, Mark Waugh offered an unconvincing defensive stroke to an off-cutter that found the inside edge and diverted into his stumps off his back leg.
There is no more comforting sight for an Australian team in trouble than Steve Waugh advancing to the wicket and, after a few early alarms against his old adversaries, the captain opened his shoulders to hammer the young left-armer Pedro Collins to the extra-cover boundary.
He followed with a punched straight-driven four off Ambrose. Langer, whose hold on the unsettled No 3 position remains tenuous, took his cue from his captain, pulling with authority on a pitch that lacked Kensington's old-time pace.
First day; Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
M J Slater c Lara b Ambrose 23
M T G Elliott c Jacobs b Walsh 9
J L Langer not out 22
M E Waugh b Ambrose 0
*S R Waugh not out 18
Extras: (lb1, nb6) 7
Total (for 3) 78
Fall: 1-31, 2-36, 3-36.
To bat: R T Ponting, I A Healy, S K Warne, J N Gillespie, S C G MacGill, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Ambrose 12.3-4-34-2 (nb2); Courtney Walsh 9-4-22-1 (nb3); Collins 3.3-0-15-0; Perry 1-0-6-0.
WEST INDIES: S L Campbell, A F G Griffiths, D R E Joseph, *B C Lara, C L Hooper, J C Adams, R D Jacobs, N O Perry, C E L Ambrose, P T Collins, C A Walsh.
Umpires: D L Orchard (SA) and E A Nichols (WI).Reuse content