Cricket: Lara pays England greatest compliment

Henry Blofeld says the hosts' tactics both copy and flatter Adam Hollioake's side
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The Independent Online
IF IMITATION is the surest form of flattery, then the West Indies paid Adam Hollioake's one-day England side the greatest compliment during the first of the two games to be played on the exquisitely picturesque ground at Arnos Vale in St Vincent.

After so nearly losing both the matches in Barbados, Brian Lara and his aides have spent the time since the second, on Wednesday, trying to drum into his players the secret of England's success.

In the simplest of terms, it is that with players who may come off the worst in a man-to-man comparison with their opponents, it is still possible to win limited-overs matches if they can show a greater consistency of form and better all-round efficiency.

This involves playing the strictest attention to detail, something it is not always easy to instill into the most naturally talented of players.

It is no good Philo Wallace and Clayton Lambert giving the West Indies the most extravagant start and then both getting out so that the innings has to be rebuilt all over again. Lara himself has been guilty of this too.

And it was fascinating in this third match to see how he refused all risks as Angus Fraser bowled an impeccable line to him just outside the off stump before he later played a most clumsy stroke to a slower ball from Mark Ealham.

This time, too, Wallace was almost blinded by responsibility, to the point that after 16 overs of the West Indies innings he had made only 15. This was one the West Indies were not going to throw away after their slow bowlers had done such a good, England-like job for them.

Curtly Ambrose and Nixon McLean had bowled 12 overs between them and then it was the slow medium pace off-cutters of Phil Simmons and the spin of Carl Hooper, Rawl Lewis and Keith Arthurton.

On a slow pitch which was not the easiest for stroke-play and which allowed a fair degree of turn, they gave nothing away and set up victory for the West Indies.

It was a reflection of their excellent bowling that when Adam Hollioake square cut Hooper for four in the 34th over, it was the first boundary to come since the 19th. They allowed the batsmen no freedom, just as Ealham, Matthew Fleming and Robert Croft had done to strangle the West Indies in Barbados.

English thinking had also gone into the West Indies team selection. They had appreciated the importance of the high standard of England's fielding in those first two games. As a result, they now brought Arthurton in for this match.

In the covers and the middle distances he is arguably as good a fielder as any in the world today. Now, he has seriously cut down England's flow of short singles, not only by his actual fielding but also by the deterrent effect. He inspired his team-mates and what a difference he made.

In spite of an obviously changed approach, Wallace, Lambert and Lara all threw it away again, but even in spite of the terrier-like qualities of England's bowlers and fielders, they could not make up for the deficiencies of their batsmen who had unaccountably fallen short of the high standards they had set earlier.