Cricket: Lara sets sights on 400

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Warwickshire 372-5 v Middlesex

DISGUSTED OF Edgbaston can put his effigy of Brian Lara back in the shed because yesterday the Trinidadian offered a return on Warwickshire's investment.

After all the mutterings of recent weeks he found a situation ideal for recuperation - a blue sky, a sleepy wicket on the downhill edge of the square, a Middlesex attack without its only bowler of the highest quality, Angus Fraser, and a sunbathing crowd at cricket's headquarters. And Lara's words afterwards will have the Middlesex dressing-room worrying that more is to come.

He revealed he is now setting his sights on equalling his total runs for the season - in this single innings. Shrugging off 14 months without a century, Lara wants to cash in today on what is already a huge foundation.

He said: "I scored only 420 runs this season in 19 innings and I will be seeking to equal that season-long total in just this one innings."

His 224 contained 33 fours and one six from 277 balls.

This was neither a daring nor a magisterial innings, though it was occasionally illuminated by the familiar Lara touches through the slips and the wristy flicks to leg.

Instead here was a skipper taking as long as necessary to hoist his side into an unassailable position. There was one sharp chance to the wicketkeeper, but Lara was deep into three figures by then.

He had struggled through 39 first-class innings since last making a hundred, in the St Vincent Test against Sri Lanka in June of last year, and between times he has found many embarrassing ways of signalling his temporary loss of vision, notably a leaden-footed shuffle across the stumps leaving his pads exposed.

"It was my worst trot in a long time, and my confidence was a bit low," the master batsman admitted.

His 200, five overs before the close, was the fifth double-ton of his career and the first since he took 501 off Durham in June, 1994. It came in 258 balls which, on a day when other batsmen became mysteriously becalmed for over after over, was at least a jogging pace.

Nick Knight rushed to 21 runs and then completely forgot how to score. His dismissal seemed only kind. Mark Wagh chose to leave a ball from Richard Johnson which proved to be straight and while Anurag Singh gave Lara valuable support in a fourth wicket stand he managed just 11 scoring strokes from 115 balls. That included a clubbed six over midwicket off Johnson.

Neil Smith was his usual pugnacious self in the last phase of play, helping Lara add an unbroken 111 in the last 25 overs, by which time Middlesex had tried all their bowlers several times and were giving the batsmen a go.

On 211 Lara passed the previous highest Warwickshire score against Middlesex made by - and here is a pub-quiz corker - Tom Cartwright, who notched up 210 way back in 1962.