Cricket: Lara is only one to linger

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FOR TWO breathtaking hours yesterday Brian Lara and Allan Donald, two of the great cricketers of the modern era, engaged in a head-to-head confrontation that gave an embarrassingly one-sided series a thrilling, if belated, flicker of life.

In two distinct and separate periods either side of lunch on the second day of the final Test Lara, the West Indies captain and a batsman of sublime talent, and Donald, South Africa's classy and very fast bowler, went after each other with the ferocious intensity of two champion heavyweight boxers.

Once it was over, the main contest returned to type. The West Indies yet again collapsed like a pricked balloon, their last eight wickets tumbling for 42, so that South Africa were closing in on their inevitable 5-0 sweep of the series by the end of the day when they led by 269 with nine second innings wickets intact. It was a crushing anti-climax to the pulsating scrap that preceded it.

Lara arrived in the third over after the predictable demise of the two openers, Daren Ganga to Shaun Pollock for the fifth successive time, and Philo Wallace, bowled off the inside-edge by Donald.

He delivered all the early blows with an awesome and calculated assault, almost exclusively on Donald off whom he took 26 from 13 balls with six fours, with strokes in all directions, executed with a full swing of the bat. He clearly won round one but Donald, quick, aggressive and wily, returned after the interval to deliver the knockout punch.

After his early pummelling, the blond South African came back immediately after the first interval to end the contest with a clinical bodyline assault, delivered from round the wicket at menacing speed.

Lara took a blow on the forearm that left him grimacing before, in desperate self-preservation, he fended another throat-seeking missile into the gully, out for 68 from 77 balls with 14 fours. He had managed only one four and six runs off 13 balls from Donald second time round and his departure was enough to send his teammates in the dressing room scurrying to panic stations.

After Shivnarine Chanderpaul, his solid partner in a third-wicket partnership of 97, had pulled and cut him for successive fours, the tiring Donald was rested. In his absence the support fast bowler, Lance Klusener, bowled Carl Hooper off glove and body and had Chanderpaul caught at long-leg by the omnipresent Donald off a top-edged hook for 38 while Pollock dispatched the left-hander Floyd Reifer for one of the four ducks in the innings.

It was perfectly set up for Donald to return to finish off the overwhelmed tail, quickly despatching fast bowler Nixon McLean, Merv Dillon and Reon King to the delight of a crowd of more than 14,000 basking in the sunshine of a perfect day and South Africa's reflected glory.

By now Donald's hamstring muscle, strained in the previous Test in Cape Town just over a week earlier, was reacting to the demands placed on it and, after receiving constant attention on the boundary's edge from the team trainer, Craig Smith, he headed for the dressing room to allow Jacques Kallis to complete the feeble West Indian surrender, all out for 144, behind by 169. Donald's figures were 5 for 49. The last eight wickets tumbled for 42 in 17 overs, the last seven for 22 off 12.2 overs. It emphasised the state of mental disarray of Lara's men.

Their woes were compounded in the final over when Courtney Walsh limped off the ground with a painful knee after delivering three balls with South Africa on 100 for 1. Now 36 and in his 106th Test, the lion-hearted fast bowler had carried their attack in South Africa's first innings 313, adding the final wicket in the morning to his five of the day before. He is unlikely to be seen again on this disastrous tour.