Cricket: Lara starts off with a 99-ball century: Warwickshire's Trinidadian sets high standard on debut as New Zealand captain suffers painful introduction to England tour

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Glamorgan 365; Warwickshire 322-2

BRIAN LARA is not to be upstaged. Yesterday morning, Phil Simmons, after his great deeds at Leicester, had the audacity to steal the back-page headlines. If Lara, like Simmons a Trinidadian, had needed a spur - which he probably did not given the huge expectations surrounding his debut for Warwickshire - there it was.

Crowds no longer flock to county cricket even to watch players of genuine high class but this man will do more than anyone to reverse the Championship's fading appeal during the next five months. Cricket's ultimate test of star quality is to empty the members' bar, which Lara did at precisely 2.04pm at Edgbaston yesterday, when Warwickshire lost their first wicket and the moment arrived.

There was no worthwhile reason for anyone to go back. Lara, dwarfed by his 6ft batting partner, Roger Twose, with whom he shared the glorious afternoon, is the biggest talent this ground has seen for many a year. One hour and 44 minutes later he had completed a century of outstanding merit, made off 99 balls with 70 of the runs scored in a progression of sumptuous boundaries, reaching the milestone with one of many imperious extra- cover drives.

He continued with similar majesty, although not without giving a chance. At 104 he was dropped at midwicket when a rare shot in the air ought to have been snaffled by David Hemp, travelling quickly though it was. Roland Lefebvre, Glamorgan's consistent Dutch seamer, was the disgruntled bowler, suffering much the same luck that he had endured earlier when he induced an edge from Lara, 64 at the time, only for the ball to land too far in front of slip to be deemed a chance.

No one, outside the Glamorgan camp, wanted the exhibition to close there in any case. Given that escape, the 24-year-old left-hander extended it by a further 51 minutes before, going forward to drive the off-spin of Robert Croft, he edged a catch to Matthew Maynard at slip to be out for 147, including 23 fours and two sixes, after a partnership of 215 with Roger Twose spanning 51 overs.

There was even a sense of disappointment now, as if he could make 375 every time, or at least match Simmons's 261. Of course it cannot be so, but a crowd that was perhaps edging towards 3,000 by this time had seen riches. And they will see more.

This was no straightforward pitch, playing slow and low, and no substandard opposition. In addition to Steve Watkin, Lefebvre rarely offers many opportunities for free scoring, Croft is undoubtedly among the 50 names in Ray Illingworth's book and Ottis Gibson, the Barbadian fast bowler, has arrived on the highest recommendation.

Somehow, from the moment Lara cut Croft to the fence from the eighth ball he faced, something like this had seemed inevitable. He later hit Croft beyond long-on into the 13th row of seats, but it was the rippling extra-cover drives that most excited the eye.

Everything else was overshadowed, but Gibson's lively 61 in a 101- run partnership with Hemp (127) ought to be noted, as Glamorgan finished on 365. And Twose survived his illustrious partner to record his first Championship century for two seasons as Warwickshire finished at 322 for 2.

Cricket, page 47

PHIL SIMMONS yesterday broke Leicestershire's 80-year-old individual scoring record when he scored 261 against a Northamptonshire side lacking Curtly Ambrose - who finally touched down at Gatwick yesterday - at Grace Road. Samuel Coe set the previous mark of 252 not out, also against Northamptonshire, in 1914.

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