Cricket: England laid bare by Lara brilliance

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The Independent Online
By Derek Pringle in St John's Antigua

England 127 West Indies 359-4

AS ONE dynasty returns another crumbles, its hopes as well as its walls, tumbled by the flashing blade of Brian Lara's bat. This series may have seen little of the master, but the thrilling quality of his 89, ably supported by Clayton Lambert's maiden century, was a lesson in dog-kicking that England should take on board if they ever want to sample anything but life in the middle lane.

Without Lara's little eruption, on a pitch now flatter than an ironing board, it could have been said that England had a reasonable day of it. Although England have been nutmegged here after losing the toss on a damp pitch now dried to perfection, they constantly appear to be retrieving situations rather than initiating them. The labradors of cricket rather than its pit bulls.

Coming in with the score on 167 for 1, and conceding a 58-run start to Lambert, Lara overwhelmed England's jaded attack with an innings of sumptuous elegance and power that got within four runs of his partner.

At his best, Lara's batting invokes images way beyond cricket. With the nimbleness of a ballet dancer, a range and speed of stroke a swordsman could be proud of, and a follow through as expansive as a hammer thrower's, Lara's innings, particularly the effortless six he clobbered off Angus Fraser, thrilled the capacity crowd.

In some ways it was 94 balls of artistic terror, and he simply did as he pleased with all the bowlers until, trying to pull Andy Caddick to the fence, he fell to a quite brilliant diving catch by Alec Stewart, stationed at mid-wicket. The relief for England was palpable, for the deja vu was looming large for at least three of the four bowlers who had toiled in vain on this ground four years ago, when Lara had scored his monolithic 375.

Mind you it was scarcely what Caddick deserved after another limp performance with the ball. A brittle personality, Caddick has bowled poorly, and this tour has seen little of the increasingly mythical creature, who bowled so brilliantly against Australia at the Oval last August.

Meanwhile, Lambert who had started like a train, plodded on, slowing discernibly as he approached the big three figures. The Guyanese opener has waited a long time for recognition, and dropped four times by England - the easiest by Atherton when he was on five - he eventually got there with a quick single.

Alongside Lara's effort, Lambert's knock was a scrappy laboured affair, taking 220 balls. Nevertheless, entertainment value does not always win you Test matches and Lambert's contribution was invaluable to West Indies cause. After Pat Symcox (37) and Peter Kirsten (39), both South Africans, Lambert now 36, is on the oldest players to record a maiden Test century.

Age would have had its place in his dismissal, too, and he was clearly running out of petrol (as Graham Gooch used to put it) when he guided an off-break from Mark Ramprakash to Graham Thorpe standing at slip. After tea, and armed with the second new ball, Fraser had Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw with one that seamed back into the left-hander off the pitch to take his 27th wicket of the series.

In trouble after showing dissent over his lbw decison on Saturday, Thorpe had been given a severe reprimand by the match referee, Barry Jarman. Again it was the right decision by the Australian, and it would have been extremly harsh, in the wake of Atherton's V-sign, had Thorpe been fined for what was no more than a few seconds of lingering and a small shake of the head.

The England captain, no doubt mindful that there are wolves at the door, began the day thoughtfully. After the mayhem dished out by Lambert and Wallace the previous evening, when the pair all but knocked off the first innings deficit of 127, in 27 overs, Atherton, as he had done in Barbados, attempted to claw back the damage by starting the day with spin.

With less pace on the ball, both batsmen were more circumspect. A big muscular man, Wallace may bulge like a bag of walnuts, but he does not always bat like a heavyweight hitter, and after the frenetic striking on Saturday, he decided to show everyone his introspective side. Lambert, having struck Tufnell to all parts of the Recreation Ground the evening before and broken the hold Tufnell has had over him since the Oval Test in 1991, also took time to find his feet.

As far as England were concerned, however, the only likely antidote to what had gone before was wickets, not inertia, and Atherton was forced to recall Headley into the attack. But if the extra pace immediately increased the boundary count, it produced a chance too and Lambert, fencing at one outside his off-stump, was put down by Stewart at second slip on 56. It was a chance England, with their toothless-looking attack, could ill-afford to squander. It was not the only chance Lambert offered either, and having enjoyed two reprieves on Saturday, he was later missed by Mark Butcher, after he pulled Headley hard to mid-wicket.

In between the two chances, though, England enjoyed their first success when Wallace, cramped by some extra bounce from Headley, dragged the ball on to his stumps eight runs short of a maiden Test century.

Never pretty, Wallace has nevertheless entertained spectators royally with his thumping shots. But if he has provided nothing but headaches in the Test matches for Atherton, Wallace has at least given the England captain some practice at setting one-day fields. Practice that appears much needed.

St John's scoreboard

Third day; West Indies won toss

ENGLAND - First innings 127 (D Ramnarine 4-29).

WEST INDIES - First Innings

(Overnight: 126 for 0)

C B Lambert c Thorpe

b Ramprakash 104

(364 min, 232 balls, 10 fours, 1 six)

P A Wallace b Headley 92

(182 min, 135 balls, 11 fours, 1 six

*B C Lara c Stewart b Caddick 89

(126 min, 94 balls, 12 fours, 1 six

S Chanderpaul lbw b Fraser 5

C L Hooper not out 32

R I C Holder not out 8

Extras (lb14 nb15) 289

Total (for 4, 89 overs) 359

Fall: 1-167 (Wallace) 2-300 (Lara) 3-317 (Lambert) 4-324 (Chanderpaul).

To bat: J R Murray, F A Rose, C E L Ambrose, C A Walsh, D Ramnarine.

Progress: Second day: 50: 37 min, 7.2 overs. 100: 100 min, 20.2 overs. Bad light stopped play: 5.58pm, 126-0 (Lambert 46, Wallace 67) 27 overs. Third day: 150: 164 min, 36.5 overs. 200: 219 min, 47.4 overs. Lunch: 236-1 (Lambert 81, Lara 42) 54 overs. 250: 260 min, 56.4 overs. 300: 309 min, 68.1 overs.

Wallace's 50: 87 min, 51 balls, 8 fours, 1 six.

Lambert's 50: 159 min, 108 balls, 7 fours, 1 six. 100: 345 min, 220 balls, 10 fours, 1 six.

Lara's 50: 74 min, 56 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.

Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and C J Mitchley (SA).