Best shows worst of West Indies

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It has taken just six days to expose the inconsistency and indiscipline that explain why the West Indies now find themselves bracketed in the nether regions of international cricket with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The sensible, efficient cricket that earned them their emphatic win over England at Trent Bridge last Sunday has been followed by two matches more typical of their general form. Yesterday's batting performance against New Zealand was especially depressing since they had secured a strong position after 30 overs in spite of their aversion to batting first.

They will now find it difficult to regroup, either for the rest of the NatWest Series or for the four Tests that follow against opponents who humbled them in the Caribbean only a few months back.

Their opening result should have been a psychological tonic for a team short on success and experience. England were well and truly beaten in their own peculiar conditions and Brian Lara's youthful charges had immediately proven their worth to themselves.

Normal service has since been restored. The euphoria and satisfaction began to unravel once the coin dropped in England's favour at Headingley.

The three captains have all preached that bowling first with the white ball in England virtually guarantees victory and their players have, understandably, accepted the theory as gospel. England's collapses to 147 at Trent Bridge and 101 at Chester-le-Street gave it credence.

The West Indies duly slipped to 40 for 4 on Thursday when Lara dragged James Anderson back into his stumps and, in spite of an England attack depleted in order to boost the batting, could only raise 159. What followed was clear evidence that all the gains from Trent Bridge had been erased. A bowling staff with 45 one-day internationals between them were hammered for 24 fours and Andrew Flintoff's massive six as England rushed to 160 off 22 overs.

Recognising the need for a revival, Lara yesterday abandoned his previously stated preference for the middle order to go up front for the first time in more than four years. On the first decent summer's day of the series and on a true, light beige pitch, he lit up Sophia Gardens with an array of the exquisite strokes on which his considerable reputation is based.

It took a classic piece of bowling by Chris Cairns to halt him - a serious bouncer one ball, followed by a slower one the next that foxed Lara into popping up a catch to mid-on. The effect of the wicket was evident in New Zealand's reaction. Another hour of Lara and the match might have been out of their reach.

As it was, he and Chris Gayle shared the best opening partnership of the series, 83 from 17.4 overs, and the West Indies were making the most of that start when they reached 180 for 4 in the 32nd over. Yet, with their self-belief dented by their reversal at Headingley, a collapse was always possibility. When it came, it was spectacular. The last seven wickets crashed for 36 runs in 10 overs.

Most fell to wanton strokes. Ramnaresh Sarwan, with 54 from 67 balls, carelessly chipped a catch to mid-on with 10 overs remaining. Dwayne Bravo was a similar victim and there were two silly run outs.

Needing tight control to defend their total, Jermaine Lawson's first delivery was a no ball that was smashed for four. When Tino Best came on for his first bowl of the series he was so pumped up that he fired two boundary wides down the leg-side in his first over.

It was a scenario that has become all too familiar, and is likely to be repeated before the tour is out.

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