Frank Worrell Trophy stays with the Aussies

There's no doubt the Australian brains-trust would be mightily concerned at the regularity with which Lara makes big scores against their attack if it wasn't for the fact that he has very little batting support and virtually no bowlers to convert those centuries into Test match victories.

ANDREW RAMSEY

AUSTRALIAN captain Steve Waugh was clearly joking when — in the wake of his team's first Test win in Guyana earlier this month — he claimed he didn't care if West Indies maestro Brian Lara made a century every time the two teams did battle in Test matches provided Australia won.

Ricky Ponting is jubilant after scoring his maiden double century in Tests. The Aussie made 206 in his team's mammoth first innings total of 576 for four declared at Port of Spain, Trinidad. — Pic. REUTERS-

It was a line he repeated immediately after Australia took a two-nil lead in the four-match series (and in doing so, retained the Frank Worrell Trophy) with a 118-run win in Trinidad, and his grin remained firmly in place.

There's no doubt the Australian brains-trust would be mightily concerned at the regularity with which Lara makes big scores against their attack if it wasn't for the fact that he has very little batting support and virtually no bowlers to convert those centuries into Test match victories.

The latter of those shortcomings was painfully obvious to everyone bar the West Indies selection panel — led by Sir Vivian Richards in concert with Gordon Greenidge, Joey Carew and Lara — on the opening morning of the Easter Test in Port of Spain.

Having added 20-year-old Anguillan off-spinner Omari Banks and fiery young pace bowler Tino Best to the squad which was humbled in Georgetown, and with promising young fast bowler Jermaine Lawson, an unexpected withdrawal due to a bout of chicken pox, the selection panel decided to stack their team with batsmen and opted for just three specialist bowlers, out-of-form pair Merv Dillon and Pedro Collins and veteran seamer Vasbert Drakes.

Knowing the rest of the workload would fall on untried all-rounder David Bernard and very occasional off-spinner Marlon Samuels, the Australians licked their lips when Waugh called correctly, at the toss, and sent his batsmen to work on the dry, flat Queen's Park pitch.

Over the next four days, the Australians would total more than 800 runs over two innings for the loss of just seven wickets, two of which (openers Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden in the first innings) fell to dubious lbw decisions from Sri Lankan umpire Asoka De Silva, another (Ricky Ponting after his maiden Test double century) to an equally contentious stumping call from the same official and the last (Darren Lehmann) taking a wild swing as his team chased quick runs prior to a second innings declaration.

Incredulity reigned when Lara claimed at the end of the opening day — at which stage Australia was three for 391 on their way to four for (decl.) 576 — he took no issue with the fact he had been handed a second-rate bowling attack to take into a match against the world's most ruthless batting line-up.

"This is what we thought would be the best option for this match,'' Lara said. "In actual fact, what I think it does it gives our batters the opportunity to do something great.''

Indeed it did offer considerable incentive for the batsmen. Unfortunately, they were the ones wearing the kangaroo and emu crest of Australia.

After the openers were sent on their way early, Ponting and Lehmann (who had a few days earlier admitted he needed a sizeable score or else his Test career was all but over) took full toll of the listless bowling and the rock-hard outfield baked dry by six months of drought in Trinidad, and compiled the largest-ever third-wicket stand put on by two Australian batsmen.

Their 315 run-stand eclipsed the 295 by Neil Harvey and Colin McDonald set in Jamaica in 1954-55, and Lehmann's 160 was the breakthrough Test century the left-hander had been searching for ever since he was first named in an Australian 12 as a talented teenager, back in 1990.

But even he was overshadowed by Ponting whose epic 206 spanned more than eight hours in hot, dusty conditions and capped a remarkable run of form for the Australian vice-captain (and World Cup winning one-day skipper) who has plundered 10 Test tons at an average above 80 in his last 10 Tests.

"It's a big thrill. I've been close (to a double century) a couple of times and been disappointed not to get there, so it was nice to get across the line,'' Ponting said.

``It's probably the one I've had to work the hardest for. I batted for eight and a quarter hours and faced 362 balls which was something I certainly haven't done before.''

As if that wasn't torment enough for Lara's dispirited band, Waugh then shuffled his batting order because he didn't want players sitting around too long in the heat with their pads on. And it was wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist in the hot seat when Lehmann finally fell late on day one.

Gilchrist, the most remarkable of 'keepers who is currently holding down a berth as a specialist number six batsman, duly peeled off his eighth Test century and, by finishing on 101not out, added his name to the exclusive list of long-serving Test batsmen who can boast a batting average above 60.

It became obvious within seven overs — when both West Indian openers Wavell Hinds (20) and Devon Smith (0) were dismissed — that it was again up to Lara to shoulder the burden and get his team past the follow-on mark of 376.

His cause was not aided by the last-minute withdrawal of first Test century maker Shivnarine Chanderpaul who revealed on the first morning of the Test that the bruised knee he had suffered while batting in Georgetown had not recovered as well as everyone (including Lara) had believed.

Fortunately, Lara found splendid support from his Trinidadian colleague Daren Ganga who followed up his maiden Test hundred in Guyana with an even more impressive 117 against the pace of Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Andy Bichel, plus the dual wrist-spin attack of Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg.

After Lara fell late on day two, bowled around his legs for 91 by one of Hogg's unerringly accurate flippers, Ganga and Marlon Samuels then carried the score beyond 250, and eventually the lugubrious Samuels (61) took them to the brink of the follow-on target before the big-hitting Drakes (24) carried them safely past and on to 408.

It was something of a needless struggle, with Waugh reluctant to enforce the follow-on even if it was an option because of the workload his bowlers had endured on the unforgiving surface.

Batting a second time, the Australians again made light of a bowling attack, which lacked as much in penetration as it did in variation. This time it was Matthew Hayden (100 not out) who proved the stumbling block with his first century in six Test innings, which represented something of a drought for the prolific Queenslander.

Hayden later admitted it was one of his less enjoyable knocks, more so because of the wearing pitch and the defensive field settings Lara employed as he desperately tried to keep his team in the game, than the threat posed by the opposition trundlers.

"It was pretty tough work, '' Hayden said.

"Conditions weren't very easy and I found myself not really enjoying it in some ways because it was so hard to score.''

When it came shortly before tea on the fourth day, Waugh's declaration (which set the West Indies a record chase of 406 off a minimum 127 overs) was regarded by many as generous given he had the opportunity to bat them completely out of the match. It also meant for the second time in the match, he had chosen not to bat himself.

"I'm not interested in putting them out of the game, I'm more interested in us actually winning the game. To do that we had to take 10 wickets, and I wanted to give us as much time as possible,'' Waugh revealed.

"I worked out that the average scoring rate was about three-and-a-half, four per over in the match. It was always going to be harder in the last innings to get the runs, and I thought anything over 400, if the West Indies could get that, then they deserved to win.''

He claims he didn't recoil from that view, even when the West Indies went without losing a wicket in the first session of the last day and went to lunch needing just 190 more runs with seven wickets in hand. Lara was again in supreme form having reached his first Test hundred on his home ground, to the unbridled delight of his doting fans.

But Waugh's confidence in his bowlers proved well placed, and less than three overs after the break Bichel made the crucial incision when he coaxed vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan into an ill-timed pull shot and he was caught at mid-on.

From that point the West Indies went into free fall and lost five wickets for 28 runs in just over 12 overs, the most telling blow coming when Lara (122) fell to a smart slips catch off MacGill as he tried to maintain some sort of scoring rate.

Unlike the corresponding series in the Caribbean four years earlier, even Lara's heroics can't inspire his lacklustre teammates to remarkable deeds this time around. And he indicated the best his young team can hope for in the immediate future is to stop the relentless Australian batsmen from scoring so quickly and heavily in the hope he can force a draw in one of the final two Tests.

As for Waugh, he's now eyeing a place in history as the first visiting captain to oversee a series clean sweep in the Caribbean, and with Glenn McGrath back, for the final Tests in Barbados and Antigua, his optimism seems well placed.

And he genuinely doesn't mind if Lara keeps making hundreds along the way.