Cricket: Clouds loom after Lara's sunny interlude

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The Independent Online
Glamorgan 315 Warwickshire 135-4

BRIEFLY, the sun shone and briefly Brian Lara lifted the clouds hanging over his benighted season as captain of Warwickshire; all too briefly on both counts.

After creaming three fours in four balls - two of them sumptuously whipped through mid-wicket - and scoring 15 from 11 balls he found the 12th, from Darren Thomas, lifting at him more quickly than expected and turned it to Dean Cosker, specially positioned just behind square. He walked with painful slowness to the pavilion, where there seemed to be a symbolic division of members ostentatiously applauding in sympathy and those just as pointedly refraining.

If Lara won over the Warwickshire public in 1994 with his record-breaking exploits, even while making occasional waves in the dressing-room, he has split them into two distinct camps on his return: those who blame him and those who blame club officials for the Championship favourites' wretched season. Allowing bottom-of-the-table Essex to make 332 to win the previous match at Edgbaston meant that with three wins in ten games they were languishing in 12th place in the table. Three days later came a humiliating display in the NatWest quarter-final at Leicester where, soon after Lara swished a catch down the leg-side, the score read 36 for 7.

Lara was heckled after both matches and the county's cricket committee were forced to issue a vote of confidence in their captain - and, of course, in their own decision to appoint him.

This week a former chairman, Bob Evans, laid the blame firmly at the committee-room door, suggesting: "It did not need a Brain of Britain to realise that Lara was likely to be both physically and mentally exhausted at the conclusion of his first season in charge of West Indies."

The chief executive Dennis Amiss claims that the dissidents number only a handful: "There were only a couple of people heckling and one of them has already written to me to apologise."

As the rain fell yesterday, there was no shortage of members willing to vent their spleen. Mike Power, a supporter even before Amiss began a long career that made him the county's leading run-scorer, had written to complain when Lara was re-signed. "They said Lara had the backing of the players, but it's been obvious from the first game that there's no spirit," he said. "You can tell from their body-language, half of them don't want to be out there. We've gone from being favourites to win everything to whipping-boys, and the catalyst was Mr Lara."

Amiss put on a brave face, as he must. "Our problem's been a lack of runs, and Brian alone shouldn't take the blame for that. He's very, very disappointed with his own form, but every player hits that during his career. I've spoken to him and he says he wants to see it out because he wants to come out of the season with some pride."

That pride must have been dented yesterday. As Warwickshire slipped to 135 for 4 between the showers in reply to Glamorgan's 315, the man regarded as the world's best batsman had an average for the season of 22.11.