Cricket: Lara survives his flaws to take the floor

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The Independent Online
Warwickshire 280; Derbyshire 165-6

THEY all said Brian Lara's cricketing education would not be complete until he had batted on a green top at Queen's Park. Well yesterday, give or take a few examination nerves, he certainly passed the test, making a century before lunch and 142 from 135 balls in all.

This venue should not be confused with Queen's Park Oval, Lara's home ground. One is in Port of Spain, the other can often mean sport of pain, when the ball is jagging back into the ribs or rapping the knuckles.

It was not like that yesterday, just a well grassed seam bowlers' pitch. But there was enough happening to justify Derbyshire's decision to bowl first and if not all Warwickshire's dismissals owed too much to the conditions, significantly none of their other batsmen reached 50.

Small wonder then that Lara walked off to a standing ovation. For him this innings probably brought a good deal of relief after a trot of only 127 in four knocks and much talk of fatigue and the relentless grind of county cricket.

Bob Woolmer, Warwickshire's director of coaching, had confided before the start that Lara probably needed a bit of luck. That he enjoyed aplenty early on. On another day he might not have reached double figures.

His first ball flew over the slips off a thick edge. Another, from Dominic Cork, went at catchable height through the vacant third slip area. By the time the gap was filled, Lara was off and running. Unlike an Englishman, who would have bided his time on this pitch, he decided there was a stroke for virtually every ball, even if that meant some were occasionally prejudged or flawed.

Devon Malcolm, who had unsettled him as much as anyone in the first Test in Jamaica last winter, was given, unusually, 11 successive overs with the new ball to see if he could do so again. At 25, he saw him dropped him at slip by Mohammad Azharuddin following an attempted drive, though the chance was travelling fast enough to injure the fielder's hand.

But Lara also drove Malcolm fiercely back over his head for four, which is not an everyday occurrence. Soon the ball was flying to all parts from a full swing of the bat and, whether moving around or not, was often hit powerfully on the up.

Five overs of off spin (surely a bonus in these conditions) went for 59, enabling Lara to cruise to his second 50 from only 33 deliveries; he could not hide his dismay when he eventually fell to Kim Barnett's tumbling catch as he raced in from deep midwicket.

Meanwhile, at the other end, an entirely different game was taking place. Various mishaps occurred, starting when Roger Twose trod on his stumps. That was quickly followed by Andy Moles who, meeting a ball that stopped a shade, was athletically caught and bowled by Simon Base.

Maybe it was simply Lara's departure or the appearance of the sun drawing moisture from the pitch, but the old ball appeared to move around just as much, if not more, than the new. It was Base, putting it more often than not in the right place, who precipitated the fall of the last six wickets for only 41 runs.

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