W Indies' shambles plumbs depths

Australia 331 & 312-4 dec West Indies 304 & 27-0
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The Independent Online
West Indies cricket has had to endure a host of embarrassing experiences over the past couple of years. The fourth day of the second Test yesterday was the latest addition to the long and demeaning list.

It did not have quite the same traumatic impact as the loss to Kenya or the semi-final collapse to Australia in the World Cup nine months ago. Nor was it as critical as the heavy defeats in Barbados and Kingston that allowed Australia to capture the Frank Worrell Trophy that the West Indies are seeking to regain.

But, in more than 30 years watching them in Test cricket, I cannot recall as shoddy a performance. An edged catch from Mark Waugh eluded the uncertain gloves of the wicketkeeper Courtney Browne, who had dropped him the previous afternoon. Another escaped the clutches of Carl Hooper, usually the safest of catchers. Ground balls repeatedly went through the legs of careworn fielders, often to the boundary, and the throwing was weak and inaccurate. Alert Australian batsmen gathered sharp singles almost at will. Yet, ironically, the West Indies still had a glimmer of hope of winning the match and levelling the series as they entered the last day.

Mark Taylor's bold decision set them a target of 340 in a minimum of 104 overs and their openers got through the 12 overs at the end of the day, erasing 27 of the required runs.

No team has ever totalled more than Australia's 276 for 4 against England 99 years ago to win a Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground and a sluggish, turning pitch that has rendered stroke-making difficult did not encourage the prospects of such a record being erased.

It was a positive, and courageous, decision against opposition, including as dangerous a batsman as Brian Lara, whose previous Test match on the ground brought him his glorious 277 four years ago.

Three times in the past - Bridgetown in 1994 and Lord's in 1995 against England, and Brisbane last week against Australia - Lara has been unbeaten entering the final day with similar totals as goals. All three times he was out within the first hour and the West Indies lost.

His form on this tour has been patchy but there was no more appropriate time for him to return to his devastating best. His perennially touted confrontation with the leg spinner, Shane Warne, Australia's most potent weapon, was once more eagerly anticipated.

Almost everyone was culpable in the West Indian shambles, the nature of which was accurately captured by the hash made of a run-out chance when both Australian batsmen, Matthew Elliott and Waugh, were scrambling on their hands and knees after a spectacular mid-pitch collision as they sprinted for a second run.

As both groggily scrambled to their feet, Courtney Walsh, the captain, a modest fielder at the best of times but, by comparison with his team- mates, Learie Constantine reincarnated on the day, picked the ball up and flicked the return to Hooper, the bowler.

No more than three yards from the stumps and with Waugh at his mercy in front of him, Hooper chose to hurl the ball to Browne at the opposite end. It gave the desperate Elliott, 78 and in sight of 100 in his second Test, the split-second he needed to dive and slide his bat over the crease before the keeper could break the stumps, a decision so close it needed the confirmation of the TV replay. As it was, Elliott, the tall left-handed opener, tore ligaments in his right knee and had to go off.

Fourth day; Australia won toss

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 331 (G S Blewett; C A Walsh 5-98).

WEST INDIES - First Innings 304 (S L Campbell 77; G D McGrath 4-82).

AUSTRALIA - Second Innings

(Overnight: 77 for 2)

M T G Elliott ret hurt 78

M E Waugh c Browne b Ambrose 67

M G Bevan c Browne b Benjamin 52 G S Blewett not out 47

I A Healy not out 22

Extras (b4 lb10 w3 nb9) 26

Total (for 4 dec, 106 overs) 312

Fall (cont): 3-209 4-274.

Bowling: Ambrose 20-2-66-1; Walsh 19-6-36-0; Bishop 20-5-54-2; Benjamin 16-4-46-1; Adams 4-0-21-0; Hooper 27-7-75-0.

WEST INDIES - Second Innings

S L Campbell not out 13

R G Samuels not out 12

Extras (lb1 nb1) 2

Total (for 0) 27

Bowling (to date): McGrath 4-1-7-0 (1nb); Waugh 4-0-15-0.

Umpires: D Shepherd (Eng) and D Hair (Aus).