Cricket: Lara's inexperience exposed by Stewart

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The Independent Online
There were two most significant contributions to England's excellent progress on Saturday apart from Angus Fraser's exceptional bowling.

Alec Stewart set the tone for England's second innings with batting of the highest possible class. From the moment, in the second over, when he pulled and cover drove Nixon McLean for fours, Stewart dominated the bowling on an awkward and at times unpleasant pitch.

The other contribution came from Brian Lara's captaincy, which was to say the least inexperienced. It was his unfathomable decision to open bowling with Kenny Benjamin and McLean when England began their second innings, instead of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, which gave Stewart his chance.

There is almost a naive arrogance about Lara's captaincy. He gives the impression he is making decisions like this one to show he is his own man. It made no sense to turn to his two less experienced fast bowlers, especially as the English batsmen would have been mindful of Ambrose's part in their second innings here four years ago when they were bowled out for 46 and he took 6 for 24.

Lara's decision was an important psychological boost for England and will hardly have pleased Ambrose or his predecessor as captain, Walsh, who has never been a bosom pal of his. Late in the day, when Walsh was bowling his heart out in a fierce final spell, he clearly wanted a man close to the bat square on the off side, which Lara refused to give him. That, too, will not have done much for their relationship.

It was also curious that after tea Lara did not use Ambrose, who had bowled only 12 overs earlier in the innings. Not many captains would have allowed Carl Hooper eight overs of relatively innocuous off-breaks immediately after lunch either. Lara did not make life as difficult for England as he should have.

Having said that, nothing can detract from the quality of Stewart's innings. The basis of his batting was his excellent footwork, which enabled him to cope with the uncertainties of the pitch. Stewart's close play was decisive and his defence impeccable.

It was not only an innings of high technical skill, it was also one of considerable bravery. When he had made 42, he received probably the nastiest ball of the day, from Walsh. Stewart came forward, the ball rose sharply and hit him a horrid blow on the point of the elbow. It was very painful but being the man he is, Stewart did not consider leaving the field.

The quality of his innings was later underlined by the clatter of England wickets on the fourth morning.

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