| Jokes apart: Andy Bichel and Brett Lee take a break from training at the Cave Hill grounds in Barbados Tuesday. (Reuters)
Bridgetown: Glenn McGrath renews his battle with West Indian batting powerhouse Brian Lara as the Australians press to wrap up the series with a victory in the third Test which gets underway here on Wednesday.
Australia have already retained the Frank Worrell Trophy following big wins in Guyana and Trinidad, and now are eyeing the prospect of becoming the first visiting team in 73 years of West Indies cricket to complete a series whitewash.
Yet despite Australia’s dominance, Lara, turning 34 on Friday, has been a thorn in the side of the Australian bowlers on the flat Caribbean pitches, scoring 349 runs at an average of 87.25.
The West Indies captain thrilled his Trinidad followers with his first-ever Test century at his home Port-of-Spain ground in the second innings of the second Test last week and continues his crusade against the strongest team in world cricket.
Lara has now scored a hundred in Australia’s last five Caribbean Tests and it is with opportune timing that McGrath resumes his rivalry with one of cricket’s foremost batsmen.
McGrath, who returns to the Aussie squad after taking time off to attend to his ailing wife, has proved Lara’s nemesis, taking the West Indian champion’s wicket 13 times in Tests and their personal battle will be one of the major highlights of the Kensington Oval Test.
“You want to challenge yourself and do things differently and I think you’ll see some interesting fields to Brian Lara in this Test match,” Aussie skipper Steve Waugh said.
Waugh tried everything during Lara’s century in Trinidad, stacking the covers with three men and even pushing himself into short mid-off in the hope of a lofted drive.
Lara prevailed and the Australians appeared stuck for answers because he had become less vulnerable since tightening up his technique outside off-stump that brought him undone in Australia more than two years ago. Australia’s tactics, now that premier strike bowler McGrath is back, is likely to involve shorter-pitched bowling to try an make the left-hander uncomfortable at the crease.
“My approach in the remaining matches will be very positive,” Lara said. “I am very optimistic about our batting in the remaining matches but in the bowling we need to do some work to limit the Australians. In the next Test, we will have more options and we should not get too carried away. We are playing against the best team in the world and trying too much could be a problem.”
Waugh warned: “they are not going to get a draw — they’re going to win or lose,” Waugh said. “Unless it rains it’s not going to be a draw. We’re willing to lose a game to win it.”
Waugh is likely to stick with five bowlers, probably including four pacers for the first time since February 1992 and Brad Hogg is likely to be left out for McGrath.
Australia (from): Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann, Steve Waugh (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Bichel, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Stuart MacGill, Glenn Mcgrath, Brad Hogg.
West Indies (from): Chris Gayle, Devon Smith, Daren Ganga, Brian Lara (captain), Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ridley Jacobs, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon, Jermaine Lawson, Tino Best, Omari Banks, Carlton Baugh.
Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng), Srinivas Venkatraghavan (Ind).