Cricket / Fifth Test: Lara's master blast: West Indies regroup as a centurion rolls over England's attack

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AFTER seeing their fortress in Barbados breached last week, the West Indies were never going to allow another of their bastions to fall without a fight. Having lost two early wickets, an unbeaten 164 by Brian Lara, who began watchfully, gathered momentum and finally broke loose in a whirr of gay abandon, put his side firmly on top. With crucial support coming from Jimmy Adams, the two left-handers shared a third-wicket stand worth 179 and, on a sluggish pitch, steered this Test the West Indies' way. At the close, they were on 274 for three.

Like Alec Stewart before his run spree in Bridgetown, Lara has looked like scoring heavily every time he comes to the crease but, apart from his 167 in Guyana, he has not done justice to his prodigious talent in this series. Even so, he will end it as top scorer and, by virtue of the same sponsorship scheme that saw Ambrose pocket pounds 50,000 for his 11 wickets in Trinidad, he will be considerably richer if he manages to complete a double century today. Of all the batsmen in world cricket, he is the only one Viv Richards would pay to watch.

Bearing more than a few scars from last Wednesday's defeat, the West Indies were forced to change their line-up. The injuries to their regular openers prompted the return of Phil Simmons and there was also a place for the Leewards' opening bat Stuart Williams, who won his first cap.

With Richie Richardson out of action, Courtney Walsh, who captains both Jamaica and Gloucestershire, stepped into the breach and, for the fourth time in a row, West Indies won the toss, and without hesitation decided to bat.

Curiously, there were murmurings that England might have rested Angus Fraser, back-to-back Tests being too demanding on his cumbersome frame. As if to dispel any such notion, Fraser was quickly into his stride, dismissing Williams with a bouncer.

In his eagerness to feel the ball on the meat of the bat, Williams sloppily hooked at one of Fraser's token bouncers, and was caught by Andy Caddick, set deliberately wide at long leg. Not to be outdone, Caddick struck in the next over when he had Simmons lbw, the ball cutting back slightly, catching the batsman half forward, his bat dangling loosely.

After these setbacks, Lara and Adams went about one of their customary revivals. If both had played as painstakingly last week, then England might not have got the win they deserved. The slowness of the pitch hindered Lara's usual fluency and there was only one memorable shot, a rifle-crack cover drive for four off Caddick, that enlivened a sluggish morning session, which ended with the West Indies on 48 for two.

After lunch, Atherton brought Phil Tufnell on for a spell at the Pavilion End and, by bowling over the wicket at the left-handers, Tufnell employed the same tactic that had served England so well in the fourth Test. On this slow pitch, however, there was little margin for error and Tufnell was twice pulled by Lara through mid- wicket. Lara's fleetness of foot made sure any misjudgement was punished.

Although Lara twice threatened to cut loose with savage drives into the covers, England kept a tight reign on hims with some steady, if uninspired, bowling. It was only when Hick dropped Adams at second slip off Fraser, who was coming round the wicket, that England began to look dangerous again.

With Lara bringing up his 50 with a thumping pull off Hick, he began to get the measure of both the pitch and the attack with a flurry of boundaries off spin and seam alike.

Lewis, in particular, came in for some heavy punishment as Lara cheekily took advantage of the vacant third man area by twice steering him down there for four. Lara was just beginning to hit his stride and when that happens there is no bowler in world cricket who can stem the flow of runs from his whirring blade. Lewis was clearly out of his depth.

Adams, too, got in on the act, lofting Hick for successive sixes over an impenetrable in- field. Adams has often been at the heart of West Indian recoveries and when he crashed a Lewis long hop to the cover boundary to bring up his 50, it seemed again that England were paying over the odds for a dropped catch.

Soon after tea, Lara completed his second hundred of the series when he pulled Tufnell, still struggling to come to terms with the slowness of the pitch, for another four through mid-wicket. He was applauded from all parts of the ground by an animated and sizeable crowd.

At this point, the West Indies looked likely to wrench the game completely from England's grasp. But with Atherton resorting to his trusty foot soldier Fraser, England hit back. Adams, who never matched Lara's fluency, chanced his arm and paid the price when a loose drive at Fraser ended up in the hands of Hussain (fielding as a substitute for Mark Ramprakash) at cover.

The line of left-handers continued when Keith Arthurton came in and took up the vacated anchor man's role with unusual relish. With Lara also tightening up his game once he had reached 150, the portents do not look good for England. Unless their bowlers can precipitate a sudden collapse while the second new ball is still hard, England's chances of winning another Test in the Caribbean are fast diminishing. Another hour of Brian Lara today will see them evaporate completely.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Close of play scoreboard ----------------------------------------------------------------- (First day: West Indies won toss) WEST INDIES - First Innings P V Simmons lbw b Caddick 8 (missed ball that cut back slightly; 33 min, 27 balls) S C Williams c Caddick b Fraser 3 (caught hooking at long leg; 26 min, 17 balls)) B C Lara not out 164 (365 min, 256 balls, 24 fours) J C Adams c sub (Hussain) b Fraser 59 (drove to cover; 247 min, 164 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes) K L T Arthurton not out 25 (109 min, 94 balls, 2 fours) Extras (nb14 lb1) 15 Total (for 3, 90 overs) 274 Fall: 1-11 (Williams), 2-12 (Simmons), 3-191 (Adams). To bat: S Chanderpaul, J R Murray, W K M Benjamin, C E L Ambrose, K C G Benjamin, * C A Walsh. Bowling: Fraser 23-2-65-2 (nb10) (8-2-12-1 6-0-23-0 6-0-17-1 3-0-13-0); Caddick 22-6-50-1 (nb1) (8-4-12-1 5-0-15-0 5-0-15-0 4-2-8-0); Tufnell 23-8-58-0 (nb1) (10-4-16-0 5-1-13-0 8-3-29-0); Lewis 14-0-65-0 (nb6) (6- 0-18-0 4-0-29-0 4-0-18-0); Hick 8-2-35-0 (6-1-33-0 2-1-2-0). Progress: Lunch 48-2 (Lara 23, Adams 11) 28 overs. 50 in 130 min, 30.2 overs. 100 in 194 min, 45.2 overs. 150 in 230 min, 53 overs. Tea 166-2 (Lara 92, Adams 54) 56 overs. 200 in 297 min, 67.2 overs. 250 in 356 min, 82.3 overs. Lara 50: 154 min, 121 balls, 7 fours. 100 232 min, 180 balls, 16 fours. 150 327 min, 240 balls, 22 fours. Adams 50: 203 min, 127 balls, 1 four, 2 sixes. ENGLAND: * M A Atherton, A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, R A Smith, G A Hick, G P Thorpe, R C Russell, C C Lewis, A R Caddick, A R C Fraser, P C R Tufnell. Umpires: D B Hair and S A Bucknor. -----------------------------------------------------------------