| Jermaine Lawson (extreme left), who took seven for 78 in the Australian first innings Friday, is congratulated by Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga in St John’s. (AP)
St John’s, May 10 (Reuters): The West Indies captain Brian Lara hit a magnificent 68 to keep his side alive in the fourth and final Test on Saturday as they attempt to avoid an unprecedented home whitewash.
Australia reached 53 without loss at 2 am for a lead of 53 runs. Matthew Hayden was batting on 15 with Justin Langer on 29.
Lara’s innings, which included a heated exchange with his opposite Steve Waugh, helped the West Indies reach 240 all out, the same score as Australia.
It is the first time the visitors have failed to achieve a first-innings lead in the series.
Lara hit 12 fours and one six but his cavalier style was ultimately his downfall as he threw away his wicket by driving Andy Bichel’s delivery straight into the hands of Justin Langer at mid-off, having hit the previous three balls for four.
Lara signalled his intentions early with a six over point off Brett Lee to get off the mark before he cut two successive Jason Gillespie balls to the third man boundary for four.
Bichel was given similar treatment, when he replaced Gillespie, as Lara pulled him for another boundary to reach 8,000 runs in Test cricket.
Despite Lara’s efforts, the West Indies were struggling at 140 for six after Lee removed Devon Smith (37) and Vasbert Drakes (21) while Bichel took the valuable wicket of Ramnaresh Sarwan (24) and Glenn McGrath dismissed Shivnarine Chanderpaul (one) in the morning session.
Lara, having hit 40 off 49 balls before lunch, needed another 24 deliveries to reach his 50 as he attempted to shore up the innings after lunch.
Wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs then hit McGrath for two boundaries in the same over, before Lara completed the first half century of the match by flicking McGrath to fine leg for four.
Their 45-run seventh-wicket partnership ended when Jacobs hit a Lee delivery back to the bowler, who hit the stumps and caught him out of his ground before Lara was dismissed.
Lara’s dismissal left the West Indies on 197 for eight but a rapid 14 off eight balls from Jermaine Lawson, who took seven for 78 in Australia’s first innings, helped them level the scores.
Lawson became Stuart MacGill’s only victim when he was caught by Martin Love while Mervyn Dillon was bowled by Lee.
Earlier on Friday, Lawson took seven for 78 to rock the mighty Aussies.
The 23-year-old Lawson removed opening pair Hayden and Langer before lunch, dismissed Darren Lehmann after the break and then mopped up the last four wickets.
Dillon took the wickets of Waugh and Gilchrist, while Banks took the other wicket to fall as West Indies exploited a bouncy Recreation Ground pitch.
The Australia skipper made 41 when he was judged to have been caught behind by Jacobs off Dillon and trudged away reluctantly, clearly believing he had not touched the ball.
Australia, 3-0 up in the four-match series and attempting to hand West Indies their first whitewash at home, were without vice-captain Ricky Ponting, who was ruled out with a flu-like viral infection.
Doubts still surrounded the flu-like infection that struck down Ponting and forced him to miss the final Test.
Team physio Errol Alcott said Ponting, who made a century in each of the first three Tests against West Indies, had visited local doctors and been put on antibiotics, but that the illness had not been identified. “We’re not quite sure what Ricky has got,” Alcott told reporters.
“He’s had headaches, fever, joint aches, sweating and he’s lost his appetite. I think we’ll have to call it a flu-like medical condition.
“He probably picked up a bug somewhere in Barbados.”
Alcott added that Ponting’s temperature had dropped in the last 24 hours and that he was showing signs of improvement.
Ponting had spent five days in bed suffering from flu-like symptoms.