England make Lara pay for tossing away the initiative

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The Independent Online
The plot began to unravel from the moment the visiting captain Brian Lara informed his English counterpart Michael Vaughan at the toss that the West Indies would bowl.

The plot began to unravel from the moment the visiting captain Brian Lara informed his English counterpart Michael Vaughan at the toss that the West Indies would bowl.

By the middle of the afternoon, as Andrew Strauss and Robert Key were doing much as they pleased in their record second-wicket partnership, it was clear that the psychological advantage England had established with their 3-0 series victory in the Caribbean a few months ago had been re-established, in a few short hours, by two players who were not even there.

Lara's tactics are rarely governed by cricketing orthodoxy but his first decision of the series not only defied logic it also contradicted his comments to the media on Wednesday.

They were to the effect that he was satisfied with the state of his side's batting leading up to the Test but was concerned with the bowling department. He referred particularly to the lack of control that leaked runs at more than five an over in the preliminary matches against the MCC at Arundel and Sri Lanka A at Shenley.

While Lara himself ­ as well as Devon Smith, Sylvester Joseph, Dwayne Bravo, Ridley Jacobs and Shivnarine Chanderpaul ­ all helped themselves to hundreds, those bowlers who joined from the Caribbean following the NatWest Series and all new to England ­ Pedro Collins, Fidel Edwards and Omari Banks ­ could make no impression. Edwards, only just back from injury, managed a solitary wicket for 197 runs at an average cost of over six runs an over in the warm-up games.

If such evidence did not send a message to Lara in large flashing lights to bat if the coin fell in his favour, there were even greater additional reasons. The team's strength and experience undeniably lies in its batting. Lara, the most prolific of all West Indian batsmen, is in his 109th Test.

He knows England's bowlers well. His last innings against them was his unbeaten 400 in Antigua in April. Chanderpaul, in his 80th Test, and Ramnaresh Sarwan, in his 47th, both average over 40 an innings, Gayle, in his 44th, only three below. Even the wicketkeeper Jacobs, batting at No 7, is capable enough to have five Test hundreds to his name and averages just under 30.

In contrast, the five bowlers at Lara's disposal shared a mere 49 Test caps between them. Collectively, they had paid around 40 runs for each of their wickets. All were appearing in a Test in England for the first time.

Even given such constraints, Lara could not have expected them to have been as abysmal as they were. Apart from a lively spell of five overs by the aggressive Tino Best in mid-afternoon, they posed not the slightest problems to Strauss and Key.

The two England batsmen treated them with the disdain of men playing against boys, rattling along at an alarming rate, cutting, driving, pulling boundaries at will ­ and yet Strauss and Key are, themselves, as new to international cricket as the youth arm of the West Indies team.

Now, through Lara's baffling decision to send England in and the ineffectiveness of his bowlers, the West Indies will be under enormous pressure to bat themselves out of a deep hole when their turn eventually comes around.


2003 The Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, won the toss and put Australia in to bat in last year's World Cup final, played in South Africa. The Australians amassed 359 for 2 with their captain, Ricky Ponting, scoring an unbeaten 140. Australia went on to win by 125 runs.

2002 Nasser Hussain invited Australia to bat at the first Test in Brisbane. At the end of the first day Steve Waugh's side had reached a grand total of 364 for 2. They went on to defeat England by the small margin of 384 runs and retain the Ashes.

1990 Mohammed Azharuddin elected to bowl first at Lord's after winning the toss. Graham Gooch scored 333, the highest score at the ground, and England declared on 653 for 4. Kapil Dev hit Eddie Hemmings for four consecutive sixes to avoid the follow-on but England won by 247 runs.

1989 David Gower inserted the Australians in the first Test of the Ashes campaign. Steve Waugh scored an unbeaten 177 and Australia had reached 601 for 7 when they declared. They defeated England by 210 runs and went on to regain the Ashes.