Captain finds inspiration for fightback in old woes

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The Independent Online

Brian Lara had travelled the same rocky path before. His way out of it was exactly the same. Five years ago, in the second season of his first tenure as the West Indies captain, his leadership was roundly and publicly criticised by the West Indies Cricket Board after an ill-starred tour of South Africa where all five Tests and six of the one-day internationals were lost.

Brian Lara had travelled the same rocky path before. His way out of it was exactly the same. Five years ago, in the second season of his first tenure as the West Indies captain, his leadership was roundly and publicly criticised by the West Indies Cricket Board after an ill-starred tour of South Africa where all five Tests and six of the one-day internationals were lost.

The failure was compounded by Lara's coincidental loss of batting form against Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, which left him without a hundred in either form of the game and a modest average in the mid-30s in the Tests.

The board accentuated its censure by renewing Lara's captaincy for only two Tests of the ensuing home series against Australia. He was, effectively, on probation and when a team even weaker in batting that it is now collapsed to 51 all out to lose the first Test by a mile, his position hung on a thin thread.

The pressure could scarcely have been more intense at the end of the opening day of the second Test in Kingston. The West Indies were 34 for 4, replying to Australia's 256, and yet another collapse to defeat seemed inevitable.

What followed was the stuff of dreams. In spite of ­ or, more probably, because of ­ his own and his team's crisis, Lara amassed 213 and followed that with an unbeaten 153 in the second innings of the next Test to send the West Indies into an implausible 2-1 lead in the series.

He reeled off a third hundred in the last Test of the series but it was not enough to prevent Steve Waugh's desperate team from claiming a victory which earned the tourists a share of the spoils.

Fast forward to last Thursday. The West Indies found themselves on the eve of a match which presented England, the old enemy, with the distinct possibility of transforming their 3-0 advantage in the current series into the first clean sweep that any visiting team had completed in a series in the Caribbean.

Lara's own form had been wretched and his team had folded for an all-time low Test score for the West Indies, 47, in the first Test in Kingston, then for a paltry 94 in the third Test in Bridgetown.

Lara's tactics and commitment were being blamed by all and sundry. Calls for his head came from the great and the humble. As he acknowledged, he was once more drinking in the last chance saloon.

"The next five days are very important in terms of my future as captain," he said prior to the match. "No captain, no team, wants to go down for the first time in their history as losing all their Test matches at home."

It the kind of situation that had stimulated him to his great deeds against the Australians in 1999. Somehow, aided by a benign pitch on the ground where he accumulated his world record 375, he once again found the inspiration to repeat the revival.

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