Cricket: Lara pursues perfection

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THE RECORD of Brian Lara's seventh century in eight first- class innings was unwittingly preserved on the scoreboard by the intervention of the weather here yesterday as a grim day suspended this game where Friday's action left it.

Lara is not out and Warwickshire will need 197 more to avoid the follow-on if a resumption is possible tomorrow. In the meantime, the batsman who seems quite unable to stop making runs can ponder his next assault on Wisden's hallowed pages. The one blip in his extraordinary journey from 375 in Antigua on 18 April to 111 here on Friday denied equality with Fry, Bradman and Proctor, who scored six hundreds in a row, but it cannot be discounted that Lara's 26 against Middlesex at Lord's was not merely a pause between attempts. Indeed, he may now be a third of the way there.

By Lara's own admission, his performance here has not been satisfactory, regardless of what the scorebook says. He was dropped at the wicket and bowled by a no-ball before he had reached 20 and the ball flew off both edges of the bat as the exquisite timing that has come so easily to him became suddenly an elusive quality.

A small, slight figure buffeted by an unseasonal gale, he seemed strangely mortal, a magician inexplicably robbed of his powers. But when faced with the possibility of failure he revealed a strength of character as important as his more obvious gifts, taking himself off for a teatime net.

David Graveney, Durham's veteran left-arm spinner, identified in this another hallmark of a great player. 'The thing you notice about Lara is that he is very hard on himself when he does not get it right technically,' Graveney said. 'He reminded me in that respect of Zaheer Abbas, with whom I played at Gloucester. Zaheer would spend hours and hours practising his technique, or else watching play so that bowlers he had not seen before could be assessed. His attitude was that nobody is so good that they cannot stop learning and I think there is something of this in Lara.'

Nothing has provided more pleasure this season than the sight of Lara in full flow. Warwickshire, who have paid handsomely for his services, have already had 786 first-class runs as a return on their investment. The only ones carping have been those who see the knowledge Lara is gaining of English conditions being put to good use by the West indians here next summer.

'I think that's a cynical view,' Graveney said. 'I always believed that overseas players are good for the game here, offering English players a unique opportunity to learn by playing alongside and against the best in the world. In my experience, the majority of overseas players are only too willing to give advice.'

(Photograph omitted)