Defensive tactics dim enthusiasm of Lara's bright sparks

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The Independent Online

It has become a fashionable cliché that, in spite of their abysmal record, West Indies are blessed with a bounty of young, richly talented players who simply need experience and the right guidance to break the team's prolonged slump.

There was occasional evidence of it earlier in this series, in the all-round promise of Dwayne Bravo, the fast bowling of Tino Best and Jermaine Lawson and the more established batting of Ramnaresh Sarwan, all under the age of 25.

There was more in this Test. Sylvester Joseph, on debut aged 25, fitted easily into an unaccustomed role as an opener, while Bravo confirmed his potential with his classy 77, which alongside the reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who finished with 76, revived the innings.

It was even more encouraging yesterday. In the first hour, the batting of Carlton Baugh, the little wicketkeeper in his fourth Test only because Ridley Jacobs' stiff, aging right knee had given out, and Dave Mohammed, the left-hander in his second Test primarily for his wrist-spin, brought a spark so repeatedly lacking from earlier efforts.

There was adventure in the strokeplay, the innocence of youth perhaps, that took England by surprise. For the first time in the series, the lower order didn't meekly capitulate. They and the fast bowlers who followed rode blows from aggressive, short-pitched bowling from Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff, with the second new ball - a tactic that once brought strident protests when used by West Indian fast bowlers - to add 120 in the two hours to lunch.

It clearly infused the team with the energy and confidence that it has so frequently lacked. It was no coincidence that England were soon 40 for 3.

But it does not take long for such a favourable position to evaporate for a team unaccustomed to such dominance and unsure of how to make the most of it. As the sunny afternoon wore on and Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe gained the ascendancy, the effort rapidly lost its intensity.

Fielders were spread to defensive positions, the body language reflected a resignation to the situation, a crucial, straightforward catch was missed by Sarwan off the bowling of Mohammed with Thorpe on 58 and the groundwork became ragged. It was Lord's and Edgbaston all over again.

Brian Lara was clearly handicapped by the absence of Pedro Collins, his left-arm swing bowler who had his chin split open attempting an ambitious hook at Flintoff. But the first sign of a lack of conviction was his use of Joseph's occasional, uncomplicated medium pace for a couple of overs when England were still under pressure at 66 for 3, even before Mohammed, his principal spinner, was employed.

This shows a defensive mindset, developed after having to make do with limited attacks since his return to the captaincy. But it demonstrates a lack of confidence in his bowlers and that is reflected in their performance.

It is an attitude that soon undermines the enthusiasm of bright sparks like Bravo, Best, Baugh, Mohammed and many others who have shown early potential.