Giles welcomes Lara's challenge

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The Independent Online

Ashley Giles is expecting little sympathy from Brian Lara during the coming weeks even though the England spinner was a team-mate of the West Indies captain in the 1990s. Lara spent two summers playing for Warwickshire and in the first of those - 1994 - broke a world record. The unbeaten 501 the Trinidadian scored against Durham is still the highest individual score by a batsman in a first-class match.

Ashley Giles is expecting little sympathy from Brian Lara during the coming weeks even though the England spinner was a team-mate of the West Indies captain in the 1990s. Lara spent two summers playing for Warwickshire and in the first of those - 1994 - broke a world record. The unbeaten 501 the Trinidadian scored against Durham is still the highest individual score by a batsman in a first-class match.

At the time Giles was learning his trade in the second eleven and his opportunities to work with Lara were limited to bowling at him in the nets. For Giles, however, this was a hazardous experience.

"I bowled at him a fair bit in 1994," Giles said. "It was in the nets and I spent a lot of the time running backwards after I had let go of the ball. At the time we had these horrible nets with metal poles in them and he just used to run down the wicket and smash me. It was like being in a pinball machine."

Then, Giles could only dream of playing against Lara in a Test match but tomorrow morning he may have the opportunity to pit his wits against the best batsman in the world.

In a part of the world where many view spinners as just a tool for increasing the over rate, Giles has an important role to play. Michael Vaughan will initially search for wickets with his four fast bowlers but should they fail to make early in-roads the England captain will quickly turn to his left-arm spinner.

Giles has had an excellent start to the tour, taking 10 wickets in the two warm-up games. The pitches have offered assistance and the local batsmen, many of whom have been left-handed, have failed to cope with the turning ball.

Following the withdrawal of Dwayne Smith, who dislocated a finger in his right-hand during practice yesterday, the West Indies could have six left-handers in their top seven batsmen. History, however, suggests that Giles will struggle to repeat his form of the past fortnight.

English slow bowlers have had a miserable time in the Caribbean on previous tours and George Paine - 5 for 168 in 1934-35 - is the only spinner to claim a five-wicket haul at Sabina Park. Paine was also a left-arm spinner but even England's best lefties have returned home from here with little to show for their toil. Derek Underwood took five wickets in the West Indies at an average of 62.8 and Philip Tufnell's 11 scalps cost him 66 runs apiece. Tony Lock, with 18, has been the most successful of this breed but each of his wickets cost 52.

The pitches in the Caribbean have changed. Although the ball still skids on for the quicker men, they no longer look like pieces of formica. The surfaces are rougher in appearance and this gives slow-bowlers an improved chance of spinning the ball.

Lara will be aware of this and will attempt to get after Giles the moment he is introduced into the attack. "I expect him to come at me but I am ready for it," Giles said. "He is not like a [Sachin] Tendulkar who looks to dig in for days. Lara likes to bat for a long time but he likes to score quickly. He plays positively against spin and will try and hit a spinner out of an attack as soon as he comes in.

"I have bowled at some pretty good players now. I have had the likes of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, who can be just as devastating against spin, come at me as well so I am prepared. I am not saying that this will make my job easier but I like to think I am someone who has never backed out of a challenge and that applies in this series."

* The next twist in England's deliberations over their tour to Zimbabwe was expected to unfold in the early hours of this morning when the International Cricket Council's hierarchy addresses a press conference in Auckland. The England and Wales Cricket Board is expected to refuse to tour Zimbabwe as a mark of opposition to Robert Mugabe's oppressive regime. However, the world cricket community is united in its belief that tours should be scrapped only due to fears over safety and security or at the request of government.

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