| Brian Lara after his knock of 71 on Wednesday
Mumbai: All doubts over “sub-standard” tracks at the Brabourne Stadium and talks about the final being shifted from here could now be safely put to rest as the West Indies transformed themselves from the miserable against Sri Lanka to the marvellous against Australia on Wednesday.
It was a journey that involved courage and character with Brian Lara & Co. showing that they are very much alive and kicking. The clash of titans — with the defending champions taking on the world champions — rose to its billing, went to the wire and made the so-called pitch factor recede to the background.
Australia’s another search for the only trophy missing from their kitty got off to a disappointing note. They eventually lost by 10 runs as the West Indies, riding an allround performance, came up with a strong statement.
If Runako Morton (90 not out) and his captain Lara (71) provided the base for the victory, it became Taylor-made in the end. The West Indies fast bowler produced a breath-taking spell at the death, which fetched him four wickets, including a well-deserved split hattrick.
Adam Gilchrist played a superb knock of 92 and his 101-run partnership with Michael Clarke (47) took Australia almost to the brink of victory. But the wicketkeeper-opener’s run-out at the crucial juncture of the match by Wavell Hinds when Australia were cruising along at 182 for four on entering the final 10 overs, provided the impetus the West Indies were desperately looking for. Thereafter, Jerome Taylor’s magical spell made it a reality for the defending champions.
Needing 20 runs in three overs, Taylor came in to the scene snapping up Michael Hussey and Brett Lee in the final two balls of his penultimate over. Then, starting the 50th one, he trapped Brad Hogg to become the only bowler to achieve the rare feat in the tournament.
Lara, who suffered a back spasm towards the end of his innings, didn’t come on to the field in the second half. But his contribution to the team’s overall cause had a telling impact on the match. If Morton, who later was adjudged Man-of-the-Match, was out there to prove that his world record 31-ball duck in Kuala Lumpur was an aberration, his captain represented determination and discipline in a manner, which has come to be known as ‘Spectacu-lara.’
Lara came to spin the coin with the bad news that Shivnarine Chanderpaul would not be available due to a stomach bug. But he must have heaved a sigh of relief when it landed in his favour. The respite was short-lived as the West Indies suddenly slumped to 63 for four within 15 overs.
Lara banked a lot on the Chris Gayle explosion, but the West Indies opener perished — to Shane Watson in his very first over — after a promising start. Ramnaresh Sarwan also did his opener when Michael Clarke kick-started the Australian spin attack in the 15th over and was trapped plumb in front.
If Lara had decided to come at No. 9 in Malaysia (when his team was already through to the final) as part of an experimental process, his arrival as No. 6 batsman was pure strategy. He knew that the spinners would play a crucial role towards the end of the innings and so the team required his ability against the slow bowlers.
Ponting did his best by reshuffling the attacking line, and quickly replaced Clarke with Lee. This forced Lara to get into a defensive groove as he prepared himself against a test of patience. Once he passed it with distinction, there was no way stopping him, inspiring Morton to give respectability to the team’s total.
Footnote: Lara’s absence in the second session put the West Indies in a precarious situation. With Chanderpaul out and Corey Collymore back home, the West Indies had to field a local player, named Vinayat Samant, as the 12th man. The 34-year-old Samant happens to be the vice-captain of CCI and has played 60-odd first-class matches.