Cricket: Waugh left to hold the fort again

AUSTRALIA HAVE been overcome by a sudden and unforeseen uncertainty these past few weeks, instigated by Brian Lara's brilliance and typified by the dropping of the once indispensible Shane Warne from the decisive Fourth Test here.

It was a condition reflected in their batting on the opening day yesterday before their resilient captain Steve Waugh once more interceded to point them on the right path. At close, he was defiant and unbeaten 52 with Australia 221 for 5, a total diminished by a slow, heavily-grassed outfield.

Waugh won the toss for the fourth time in the series - the 11th successive time for Australia - and, once more, chose to bat. Behind 2-1 in the series following the stunning West Indies victories in Kingston and Bridgetown, Australia need to win to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy.

Their goal was a substantial total to put pressure on the West Indies, whose requirement is only a draw. When Mark Waugh failed again, out for 11 in mid-afternoon, they were shaky at 96 for 3 but his steely brother came to the rescue again, batting solidly through the remaining three and a quarter hours.

On a pitch similar in appearance and character to that on which Lara amassed his record 375 against England here five years ago, Australia encountered testing bowling, not least from the latest West Indies fast bowler, the 21-year-old Corey Collymore, and were forced to fight for every run.

Michael Slater and Greg Blewett, restored to the side in place of the struggling Matthew Elliott, had added a comfortable 60 when Slater's natural aggression seduced him into square-cutting Nehemiah Perry's bouncing off-break to point in the over before lunch.

It was an unexpected breakthrough for the West Indies. Bowlers were unlikely to find much joy over the five days on a ground where seven of the previous 13 Tests have been drawn, there have been 29 individual hundreds and the average total is 376.

Such figures did not worry Collymore. He kept consistent control of length and line and had his first success when he found Blewett's edge with an outswinger for a keeper's catch. Blewett had made 32.

Unconcerned with reputations, Collymore then greeted Mark Waugh with a first-ball bouncer that flashed past his face. The ball and the stare that followed brought approving nods from Michael Holding and Andy Roberts watching in admiration from the press box.

By then, Collymore was concluding an impressive spell of 16 overs, broken only by lunch. He gave way to Courtney Walsh, who immediately found Waugh's edge so low on the bat the batsman waited for umpire Steve Bucknor's confirmation of Carl Hooper's catch at second slip. Waugh's 11 represented another significant failure for Australia's most commanding batsman. In seven innings in the series, he has passed 50 only once.

At 92 for 3, Australia's innings again needed the steadying influence of the steelier of the Waugh twins. As usual, Steve did not falter, supported, as he had been in the previous Test, by first Justin Langer and then Ricky Ponting in successive partnerships of 59 and 56.

Langer passed 50 with a stroke off Carl Hooper that pulled up inches short of the extra-cover boundary. Trying to convert two into three, he was run out at the bowler's end by Perry's long, strong, accurate return.

Ponting, who was a determined century-maker in the first innings in the Barbados Test, again batted confidently and it took the second new ball, and his misjudgement of the line of Curtly Ambrose's off-cutter, to remove him 20 minutes before the end. Padding up, he was plainly lbw for 21.