Cricket: Lara the only winner of Sabina Park

Henry Blofeld says that the new West Indies captain passed his first Test
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IT MAY seem paradoxical, considering that if the First Test had been played to a conclusion the West Indies were much the more likely to have won, but the player most relieved to have left Sabina Park unscathed on Thursday was the new West Indian captain, Brian Lara.

It is only natural that he should have been apprehensive. After all, he had just replaced Courtney Walsh, who is a much-loved Jamaican, and he had to lead his side out for the first time in Walsh's backyard.

But as he came first out of the pavilion, he actually received rather less booing than he may have expected, and much of it came from the prestigious seats in the splendid George Headley Stand.

I remember that when Richie Richardson led the West Indies for the first time in the Caribbean, in a one-day match against South Africa at Sabina Park in 1991-92, the booing could almost have been heard in Richardson's home in Antigua. The Jamaicans favoured Walsh's candidature even back in those days.

Lara did not let it upset him. In the 55 minutes played he did not produce a single stroke of tactical genius. He did not have to do any more than throw the new ball to Curtly Ambrose and Walsh - and many lesser mortals could have done that.

But he showed a nice sense of occasion when he gave the first over of the match to Walsh at the Blue Mountain End. It showed that he was sensitive to the feelings of the Jamaicans and that decision may have taken a little of the sting out of things.

Walsh then played his part by getting rid of Mike Atherton and Mark Butcher with successive balls and when he was the central figure of a heaving mass of congratulations with Lara standing on tiptoe and high five-ing like mad, it all seemed just like a happy family party.

If Lara was doing well with the Jamaican public, what followed was impressively statesmanlike. When, after Graham Thorpe had been hit, Atherton came out of the pavilion to talk to Lara, the West Indian was courteous and obviously concerned and made no attempt to lord it over England's captain. I wondered at the time if Viv Richards, for example, would have been able to resist the urge both to remind Atherton that he had chosen to bat first and to be rather more aggressive and abrasive. Lara, too, can only have won friends with the way in which he later supported Atherton in front of the media.

He never once tried to make political capital out of the situation and showed himself to have rather more stature than some of us would have guessed. Of course, he also had the luck not to have to bat on a pitch on which anyone could have been either bounced or torpedoed or both for nought. If that had happened, the Jamaicans might have forgotten themselves.

Of course, these are early days and his tactical know-how has yet to be tested, but in the tricky situation of Thursday he at least made a good beginning.

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