Cricket: Lara rewarded for faith in demon double act

Fifth Test: England captain on the defensive as West Indies counterpart is quick to take initiative
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AS HE has already shown in his brief tenure as captain, Brian Lara is not one to be moved by convention.

If the visual and historical evidence suggested that it was a gamble to spurn the advantage of the toss and bowl, rather than bat first, it was one he was prepared to take.

Ten times in the past 11 Tests at the ground, captains have taken the same option. Seven have ended up on the losing side, including Richie Richardson when England gained their memorable triumph against the odds at Kensington Oval the last time round. There have been three first-class matches here this season. The only time the skipper has chosen to bowl on winning the toss, Guyana amassed 435 against Barbados and comfortably won.

Even though England's batsmen have been unmistakably vulnerable to spin throughout the tour - to Carl Hooper and Dinanath Ramnarine in the Tests, and the likes of Neil McGarrell, Winston Reid and Terry Rollock in the territorial matches - he and his fellow selectors stuck to accepted practice at Kensington Oval.

Barbados is the spiritual home of West Indies fast bowling. It is within the confines of its 166 square miles that many of the greats have been born and bred - Manny Martindale and Herman Griffith of a much earlier time, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall of more recent vintage. It has become almost mandatory that a full quota of four bowlers who deal in speed are chosen here. Not since 1976 have the West Indies diverted from that tactic.

Once again, Lara's trusted men did not let him down. By lunch, he had secured the initiative and justified his daring. Curtly Ambrose had the strange experience of a wicketless opening spell but there is always Courtney Walsh to fill in when that happens. The Australians in the 1970s used to chant menacingly: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; if Lillee doesn't get you, Thomson must."

The same principle applies to the two great West Indians. Yet the fastest and most hostile assault in the morning was delivered by Nixon McLean. Of course, he has the youth on his side that Ambrose and Walsh no longer do. Tall and powerfully built, he was quite a handful.

The two successive bouncers that undid Nasser Hussain brought back vivid memories of the menacing West Indian attacks of the 1980s. Hussain just managed to sway out of the way of the first. He could not avoid the second, equally fast and accurate, and diverted it from his glove into the waiting slips.