Cricket: Much at stake as Lara puts Twose to the test

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THE West Indian captain, Brian Lara, must find his best form at Southampton today or the West Indies revival and their plans to make progress in the World Cup could come to a premature halt.

After defeating Australia twice in their drawn four-Test series earlier this year and holding them in the one-day series, the long-suffering West Indian supporters were looking for a sustained World Cup challenge to confirm their re-emergence as a major player on the international stage.

But defeat at the hands of Pakistan coupled with a scrappy victory over Bangladesh in Dublin has done nothing to convince critics that their renaissance can be sustained. And, unless the first World Cup winners can beat surprise- packets New Zealand in their Group B clash, Lara and the rest of his team may have to book an early flight home.

Lara said: "New Zealand are on a high. They are playing very good cricket and have beaten Australia. The guys know the importance of the match, it's our most important so far and we have to be mentally prepared for it. Getting the first win was very important. We made a lot of mistakes with our bowling and fielding and it's something we can't afford in later matches. But the batting is improving and it's good to see our team coming together."

Just as in 1992, New Zealand have turned pre-tournament predictions on their head. After comfortably disposing of Bangladesh in their opening game, the Kiwis then stunned Australia at Cardiff with a five-wicket win to maintain their 100 per cent record. It confirmed New Zealand as almost certain qualifiers from their group and gave the former Warwickshire batsman Roger Twose a welcome return "home".

Twose was briefly a county colleague of Lara's at Edgbaston, greeting the Caribbean genius with a "welcome to the second best left-hander in the world" banner on his arrival in Birmingham. But, while Twose's introduction was tongue in cheek, their performances in this World Cup have done nothing to dispel the myth.

Lara, battling to overcome a hand injury, has managed scores of 11 and 25 in the West Indian struggles while Twose, who hit 80 against the Australians, has scored 110 without losing his wicket.