Cricket: Lara's confirmation timed to perfection

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The Independent Online
Australia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .503-9 dec

West Indies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .248-2

BRIAN LARA announced his arrival as the latest in the line of distinctive West Indian batsmen with an unbeaten 121 as classical in execution as it was timely for his team's well-being on the third day of the third Test here yesterday.

The 23-year-old left-hander's first century, in his fifth Test, filled with wristy strokes of every description, confirmed the rare talent that has identified him for future greatness since he was a teenager. The captain, Richie Richardson, provided him with essential support throughout an unbroken partnership of 217, the highest recorded for the third wicket in the 78 Tests at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

It was as vital to the immediate future of West Indies' cricket as Lara's exquisite innings is to the longer term. When play was ended an hour and three quarters before the extended close because of rain that was never far away, the West Indies were 248 for 2 in reply to Australia's 502 for 9 declared. Richardson, six runs short of his own century, was even talking of gaining a first-innings lead that was unthinkable when the partnership began.

The spirit of his embryonic team was in danger of falling apart after the collapse to a 139-run defeat in the second Test in Melbourne only five days earlier, closely followed by Australia's ruthless accumulation of runs over the first two days here.

When Lara's small, neat figure emerged from the pavilion in the day's second over to replace Desmond Haynes, bowled off the face of his bat by the off-spinner, Greg Matthews, the West Indies' mood was as bleak as the weather that shrouded Sydney and caused the loss of two hours and 10 minutes. A score of 31 for 2 is not the kind of start a team trailing in the series wants when replying to 502 for 9.

On a ground where they have been beaten in eight of their 11 Tests and have won only once, 62 years ago, the West Indies' only hope of salvation seemed to be the rain that was closing in.

Before Lara had scored it arrived to interrupt play for just over half an hour, in which time the large screen on the electronic scoreboard entertained the crowd of 15,089 with a black and white film of the corresponding Test 32 years earlier. Much of it featured the breathtaking strokeplay of another West Indian left-hander, Garry Sobers, on his way to 168. Lara was one of the enthralled viewers.

Seemingly inspired, he returned to the field as the drizzle ceased and, with Richardson in similar mood, unleashed an array of strokes in every direction. In the hour before rain caused an early and extended lunch, they counted 11 boundaries between them in scoring 70.

During the break the same Sobers he had watched earlier on the screen, now Sir Garry and in Australia promoting Barbados tourism, telephoned Lara from the ground's committee room. 'He just told me this was my day and to keep on going. It was a pleasant surprise and very nice of him,' Lara said.

He heeded the advice and, with Richardson, rapidly diminished the real worry of a follow-on target of 303.

Inevitably, they could not maintain the pace all the way and the leg-spinner Shane Warne, Australia's seven-wicket match-winner last Wednesday, caused the first and only genuine problem, when belatedly introduced in the 31st over because of a wet ball.

Once Lara had sorted things out, he proceeded to his hundred in the last over before tea, off only 125 balls. It included 12 boundaries, nine of which had studded his first 50.

The records fell one by one as the partnership mounted. At 193, they passed the mark of Joe Darling and Jack Worrall, for Australia against England, that had remained the highest third-wicket partnership in any Sydney Test since 1897-98. Five runs later it became West Indies' highest for the wicket in any Test in Australia, surpassing the effort by Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran at Brisbane in 1975-76.

By the time the weather finally closed in they had been together for the same number of minutes as they had runs and had between them hit 26 fours. It was a typical West Indian response to what had been a daunting crisis.


(Third day: Australia won toss)

AUSTRALIA - First Innings 503 for 9 dec (S R Waugh 100, G R J Matthews 79; C L Hooper


WEST INDIES - First Innings

(Overnight: 24 for 1)

D L Haynes b Matthews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

* R B Richardson not out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .94

B C Lara not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .121

Extras (lb3 b1 w1 nb3). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

Total (for 2). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248

Fall: 1-13 2-31.

To bat: B C Lara, K L T Arthurton, J C Adams, J R Murray, C E L Ambrose, I R Bishop, C L Hooper, C A Walsh.

Bowling (to date): McDermott 17-1-72-1; Hughes 6-0-34-0; Matthews 13-1-48-1; S Waugh 6-1-29-0; Warne 14-0-39-0; Border 7-0-20-0; M Waugh 0.5-0-2-0.

(Photograph omitted)