Cricket: Absence of Lara worries W Indies

West Indies 228-4 Warwickshire 210 West Indies win by 34 runs (D/L method)
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The Independent Online
CRICKET

AFTER SPENDING much of their first scheduled practice match rain- watching, the West Indies found the weather more accommodating yesterday and defeated Warwickshire by a comfortable margin in the end, the hosts failing by 34 runs to meet a target recalculated under the Duckworth-Lewis formula in a contest trimmed to 47 overs per side after a lunchtime downpour.

Not that the occasion was a particularly informative or reassuring one for the oldest and perhaps least predictable team in the World Cup. Brian Lara, who has been nursing a wrist injury for the last four weeks, was an absentee, as were the veteran fast bowlers, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose.

A substantial crowd, swelled by 1,000 local schoolchildren, had hoped to see Lara produce a little magic on the ground famous for the 501 he made during that sublime spring of 1994. They were disappointed. While he was not making calls on his mobile phone from the privacy of the chief executive's office, the captain was hidden away in the dressing-rooms, determined to keep his profile low.

No information was offered by the West Indies camp as to Lara's well- being, despite a request to an equally elusive manager, Clive Lloyd, for a bulletin. Lara, whose injury followed a dramatic return to form at the end of the Caribbean season, now has only one opportunity to test his fitness - against Surrey at The Oval tomorrow - before the West Indies meet Pakistan at Bristol on Sunday.

The silence can only increase the suspicion that Lara will not be ready in time, which does not augur well for a side whose right to be included among the tournament favourites already looks less convincing than at any previous World Cup. Keeping Walsh and Ambrose in cotton wool is a reasonable tactic - both, after all, are 35 years old - but Lara's situation is much different. After the long slump he endured before his double hundred at Sabina Park, there is no guarantee that his return to form can be sustained and thus there would seem no logical reason to deprive Lara of practice were he fit.

His absence, none the less, proved no real handicap yesterday as some of the less well-known members of Lara's crew gained potentially useful experience off a seaming Edgbaston pitch. Put in to bat, they scored briskly at first, wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs leading the way in a partnership of 77 in as many balls for the opening wicket. Jacobs survived two extraordinary dropped catches - both after wicketkeeper Keith Piper had covered enormous amounts of ground to reach the ball - to score a half-century before holing out to deep cover.

The combination of Graeme Welch and Ashley Giles checked their progress for a while but, after Jimmy Adams had driven Welch to cover, Ricardo Powell joined Shivnarine Chanderpaul in putting on 57 for the fourth wicket.

Under the sometimes baffling Duckworth-Lewis rules, Warwickshire had to outscore their guests by 17 runs to win. Mark Wagh's 66, an entertainment of five fours and two sixes, gave them a chance but the middle order proved fragile and it was only when Welch and Giles combined again, this time at the crease, that the innings recovered.

But once Giles had been caught at long-off, the likelihood of scoring at over eight an over receded quickly. Reon King, the 23-year-old pace bowler who looks the brightest of the new crop, had reason to be satisfied with his day, finishing with 3 for 34 from 10 overs.

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