Matthew Hayden’s second World Cup hundred in four days helped to put Australia in a dominant position in their rain-interrupted Super Eight match against West Indies.
The world champions’ coach John Buchanan described Hayden’s 158 – out of 322 for six – as one of the left-handed opener’s best.
It was hard to disagree with that assessment – even given Hayden’s rich repertoire of match-winning innings – after he had followed up this competition’s fastest century, against South Africa on Saturday, with another tour de force.
An ever-cautious Buchanan believes Australia will have “their noses in front” when they set out to defend their total, as long as the rain relents at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for the reserve day tomorrow.
While there is room for suspicion that they are in a significantly more advantageous lead than that, Buchanan’s description of Hayden’s ninth one-day international hundred appeared spot on.
“I’d have to say I think that was one of his top innings – not just because of the scoreline, although that is a pretty significant score in one-day cricket,” said the coach.
Hayden needed 18 balls to score his first run yet faced only 143 in all - hitting 14 fours and four sixes to finish with the highest Cup score by an Australian by the time he holed out at long-off from the bowling of Dwayne Bravo.
The batsman accurately interpreted the conditions on this newly-built ground, gradually upping the ante before launching a brutal late assault.
Those were the elements which seemed to find most favour with Buchanan – along with Hayden’s ability to change his game from the unhindered attack employed during Australia’s group campaign on the small playing area at Warner Park.
“The impressive thing was the adjustment he made from St Kitts, from a significantly different wicket, ground and against a different bowling attack - in such a short time,” Buchanan said.
“We asked for a platform from him, and he did just that – so I rate that very highly among the innings I’ve seen.”
Australia nonetheless endured plenty of anxious moments, largely through uncharacteristically jittery running between the wickets.
Captain Ricky Ponting was the only player who was run out, but there were at least four other close calls.
After being put in, they had to contend with the ball moving around in the air and off the seam under cloudy skies.
Adam Gilchrist got a delivery he could do little about from Daren Powell, cutting back off the pitch to take the inside edge and carry through for a neat catch behind.
Ponting’s pull off Powell for six in the seventh over was the first time Australia found the boundary.
But Hayden then weighed in with two off-drives for four from successive balls - at the start of Jerome Taylor’s next over.
Ponting could have gone on 16, had Ramnaresh Sarwan’s throw from mid-on been better directed
Sarwan made no mistake next time Ponting tried a quick single, knocking down one stump from extra cover – but an assortment of Windies fielders narrowly missed another clutch of run-out attempts.
Michael Clarke could have gone before he had received a ball – and again on three – while Hayden had 28 when he was sent back and would not have beaten an accurate shy from mid-on by Brian Lara.
The third-wicket pair flourished in an important stand of 98 in 16 overs until Clarke went lbw to a ball which nipped in from Bravo.
Hayden could not find a steady partner thereafter, Andrew Symonds caught behind flashing at Marlon Samuels’ part-time off-spin and Michael Hussey continuing his lean time when he edged a slower ball from Powell on to his stumps.
There was one more moment of fortune for Hayden on 109 when he struck Powell for four over the head of Sarwan, stationed five yards in from the boundary edge at long-off.
But he had plenty of power to add and took particular toll of Taylor – struck for two sixes and a four in his final over – as 99 were plundered in the last 10, despite the inconvenience of a 20-minute break in play for bad weather.
Australia’s resulting total was not quite enough, though, to convince Buchanan - when he spoke after several more hours of rain had prevented the Windies’ scheduled reply – that his team were completely in charge.
“I think we’ve got our noses in front, with that score on the board,” he said.
“But it’s a ’two-day one-day game’, and we still have a lot of work to do tomorrow to defend that total.”