Fall of Lara leaves England with chance to chase record victory

<preform>Third Test, fourth day<br>West Indies 395-9 dec &amp; 161-9<br>England 330</preform>
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The Independent Online

Brian Lara became the fourth batsman to pass 10,000 Test runs yesterday when he carved Andrew Flintoff through backward point for four, but it was the Lancashire all-rounder and England who had the last laugh.

Brian Lara became the fourth batsman to pass 10,000 Test runs yesterday when he carved Andrew Flintoff through backward point for four, but it was the Lancashire all-rounder and England who had the last laugh. Michael Vaughan's side have been outplayed by the West Indies for the majority of this match, but an inspired spell of bowling from Flintoff, and some irresponsible batting from the tourists, has given England an excellent chance of winning a sixth successive Test match.

When bad light ended an intriguing day's play the West Indies, with one second-innings wicket left, were on 161, a total that gives them a lead of 226. History suggests this target should be out of England's reach - 145 is the highest successful fourth-innings run chase at this ground - but this side is becoming used to breaking records.

Until Flintoff removed Lara, with a brute of a delivery that he could only glove to second slip, it seemed the West Indies would enter the final day as the only winners. Dwayne Bravo's career best figures of 6 for 55 had outshone Graham Thorpe's 15th Test century and given the West Indies a first-innings lead of 65.

And the visitors had taken their advantage to 153 when Chris Gayle recklessly slogged Ashley Giles to Matthew Hoggard at long-on. Before the Jamaican's aberration, England were down and conversation among Vaughan's side would have been about how many overs they would have to block out today rather than how many runs they will chase.

But teams in desperate times, like the West Indies, forget how to win, and often one mistake is all it takes to spread panic. With Lara at the crease the West Indian dressing-room would have been relaxed but once dismissed this young side would have looked at each other and thought: "No, not again."

England feel that Flintoff has the measure of Lara, and Vaughan once again brought him into the attack when the West Indies captain walked out to bat. And after dismissing the great batsman for the second time in this match Flintoff forced Shivnarine Chanderpaul into a poor shot.

This was not the end of Freddie's input - he took a good running catch when Bravo top-edged a sweep at Ashley Giles. Stephen Harmison replaced the tiring Flintoff and claimed three wickets himself. The most important of these was Ramnaresh Sarwan who was well held at first slip by Marcus Trescothick.

The early part of the day had a different atmosphere to the evening and the 14,000 spectators must have wondered if it was worth rushing breakfast. Before lunch it seemed no-one wanted to win with only 63 runs scored and 22 overs bowled.

Thorpe provided the only highlight of the morning when he completed his 15th Test century. But even this came at a price for the Surrey left-hander. On 91 the 35 year-old was struck by a short ball from Fidel Edwards. He finished on 114 but a subsequent x-ray showed a fracture in the little finger of his right hand.

Thorpe said he will bat if needed today but his place in Thursday's fourth Test at The Oval must be in doubt. England will announce the squad for that match today and Thorpe's injury, along with that of Mark Butcher, could give Warwickshire's Ian Bell his Test debut.

But after receiving treatment Thorpe carried on with his innings and he may well have questioned the wisdom of this when he was struck on the head by the very next delivery. At the time Edwards was roaring in from the Brian Statham End and bowling with genuine pace.

The Bajan may be small but any bowler who can send the ball down at 95mph is sure to be a handful when he gets it right. But after hitting Thorpe, Edwards overdid the short stuff and failed to make the most of the impression he had made.

Hoggard dug out a few yorkers and made a nuisance of himself, but the crowd had seen enough of his dogged defence by the time he edged a simple catch to slip. From this position England lost their last four wickets for just 20 runs.

And thankfully proceedings livened up following the interval. After six-and-a-half hours at the crease Thorpe's patience broke and he edged a wild drive at Dwayne Bravo to Lara at first slip. He walked off to a standing ovation but once again has failed to push on. For the past decade Thorpe has been England's best batsman but by getting out for 114 he highlighted why he will be looked upon in years to come as good rather than great. England's number five averages 44 in Tests but he has only passed 130 in three of his centuries.

A look at Lara's career figures explains why he is rightly considered a great. On 18 of the 26 occasions he has reached three figures the Trinidadian has gone on to score more than 130. How the West Indians could have done with number 27 yesterday.