Lara century rings England alarm bells

West Indies batsman strikes first 100 for 17 months only to be removed by careless run-out as tourists steal advantage
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In a series so far dominated by bowlers and predictable weather, it was the summer storm waiting to break. Brian Lara has not been at his dominating best for over a year now, but his three-hour century, at almost a run a ball, has severely reduced England's chances of winning this third Test after the West Indies ended the penultimate day with four wickets in hand and a lead of 235 runs.

In a series so far dominated by bowlers and predictable weather, it was the summer storm waiting to break. Brian Lara has not been at his dominating best for over a year now, but his three-hour century, at almost a run a ball, has severely reduced England's chances of winning this third Test after the West Indies ended the penultimate day with four wickets in hand and a lead of 235 runs.

The hundred, the 14th of his career and his first in Tests for 17 months, was vital to his team. Apart from lifting them for the final fling today, it continued the brave recovery begun by Curtly Ambrose 24 hours earlier. Like politicians and dozing dogs, the West Indies are at their most dangerous when aroused, and England now face a tense and uncomfortable final day in which survival, something of a speciality at Old Trafford in recent times, may be the only option.

That the West Indies have suddenly found themselves running the match, after trailing for most of it, owes almost everything to Lara and his captain, Jimmy Adams. The role played by Adams, with whom Lara shared a century partnership for the fourth wicket, must not be underestimated. While the smaller man explored most corners of the field with his sumptuous strokeplay, Adams showed the bowler the maker's name. In fact, the Windies' skipper was so resolute that he took just under five hours to complete his fifty.

Although not out of the top drawer of Lara batting blitzes, the little master obviously wanted it badly. Instead of marching into lunch on 49, and tucking into fried chicken, he promptly marched into the nets at the Stretford End of the ground and began working on his batting.

Had England possessed any players from Warwickshire or Durham, they would have realised the impending danger of such an act. Six years ago he did exactly the same thing in a County match involving the two sides and finished unbeaten on 501.

The practice paid off and, shedding the sunglasses he had also worn before lunch, he promptly laid waste to England's bowlers with a silky power that was only matched in patches by Alec Stewart on Friday. A player of Lara's ability and stature shortens the length of the ball, and what to most batsmen appears as a perfectly decent ball gets treated with royal disdain by the Trinidadian.

Apart from a mighty six over long-on off Robert Croft, the ball after he had almost gloved a catch to silly point, it was his off-side play that caught the eye. A crisp backfoot flash through extra off Andy Caddick and the cover drive, taken on the up off Dominic Cork that brought up his hundred, were simply exquisite. Perhaps even better was the assault he launched when England took the second new ball, a move that saw Caddick and Darren Gough concede 40 runs in seven overs.

Indeed, England were fortunate that they got him out when they did as it removed the option of declaring early. Being run out, after being sent back by his partner, is an ignominious way for a regal innings to end, but credit must go to Nasser Hussain. Pouncing on Adams' stab to short mid-wicket, Hussain swooped, spun around and threw down the stumps at the bowler's end, with Lara just inches from home.

England did not bowl poorly, but they did not bowl imaginatively either. Croft was particularly disappointing, only extract- ing slow turn out of the footholes, not off the business areas. Three years ago, Croft was made a druid in his native Wales. Sadly for England, there was little mystery to his bowling, other than the contrived hiccup in his run-up that he throws in from time to time.

Another area where Hussain and his bowlers were culpable was in allowing Adams to deadbat his way into a partnership worth 138, in which the West Indies' captain contributed just 27 runs. When the scoring is that one-sided, you need to find ways of bowling at the slow coach, not the thunder-bat.

An additional problem, and one the England captain bemoaned after his team failed to turn their initial advantage into victory during the third Test against South Africa in Durban during the winter, is the general inability of England's bowlers in taking wickets when pitches become benign. Finding the mental and technical wherewithal to take wickets on unresponsive pitches is one thing central contracts cannot rectify.

The lack of a truly class spinner is one reason, but bowlers blooded in county cricket - probably as a result of the poor standard of pitches - are not used to working stratagems that go beyond a few balls.

Courtney Walsh, for example, used his slower ball no more than six times during his 27 overs in the first innings, a scarcity that brought him one wicket and, had umpire Peter Willey not given Michael Vaughan some undeserved benefit of the doubt, would have added another. Contrast this with Gough, who bowls roughly six every four overs, and you can see why it is hope, rather than patience, by which England operate when there is nothing much in the pitch.

Arguably the best bowler yesterday was Craig White, whose new-found confidence, with ball if not bat, is proving a real asset in support of the front-line bowlers. Hussain certainly is of that feeling and he opened the day with White and Gough.

In hindsight, it was probably a mistake, as the pair are of similar pace and trajectory, their similarities allowing the early batsmen to settle more quickly.

Gough, however, did produce a beauty to find the edge of Wavell Hinds' bat and when Croft removed Adrian Griffith, who also made fifty, in his first over of the day, England looked to be back in the hunt.

Of course, a supremely gifted player changed all that for West Indies and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that another two, this time with ball rather than bat, might do the same again today.


Fourth day; West Indies won toss

WEST INDIES - First innings 157 (D G Cork 4-45).

ENGLAND - First Innings (Friday: 196 for 3)

M E Trescothick b Walsh 66 270 min, 163 balls, 6 fours, 1 six ÿA J Stewart c Jacobs b Ambrose 105 186 min, 153 balls, 13 fours M P Vaughan c Lara b Ambrose 29 144 min, 100 balls C White b King 6 34 min, 30 balls D G Cork c Jacobs b Ambrose 16 51 min, 35 balls, 2 fours R D B Croft not out 27 68 min, 44 balls, 2 fours A R Caddick lbw b Ambrose 3 8 min, 7 balls D Gough c Ambrose b King 12 23 min, 11 balls, 1 four Extras (b10, lb6, nb12) 28 Total (426 min, 97.2 overs) 303

Fall (cont): 4-196 (Stewart), 5-198 (Trescothick), 6-210 (White), 7-251 (Cork), 8-275 (Vaughan), 9-283 (Caddick).

Bowling: Ambrose 27-7-70-4 (nb1) (5-3-2-0, 5-1-29-0, 8-1-16-1, 9-2-23-3); Walsh 27-14-50-4 (11-9-11-3, 11-5-20-1, 5-0-19-0); Rose 20-3-83-0 (nb7) (6-0-33-0, 8-1-33-0, 6-2-17-0); King 12.2-3-52-2 (nb3) (4-0-23-0, 7-3-19-1, 1.2-0-10-1); Adams 11-4-32-0 (nb1) (one spell).

Progress: Third day: 200: 277 min, 65.3 overs. New ball: taken after 80 overs at 247-6. 250: 355 min, 82.2 overs. Lunch: 253-7 (Vaughan 23, Croft 0) 85 overs. 300: 418 min, 95.3 overs. Innings closed: 2.39pm.

WEST INDIES - Second innings

S L Campbell c Cork b White 55 156 min, 101 balls, 9 fours A F G Griffith lbw b Croft 54 263 min, 196 balls, 6 fours W W Hinds c Stewart b Gough 25 74 min, 58 balls, 6 fours B C Lara run out 112 200 min, 158 balls, 13 fours, 1 six *J C Adams lbw b Cork 53 287 min, 215 balls, 5 fours R R Sarwan lbw b Caddick 19 51 min, 38 balls ÿR D Jacobs not out 25 80 min, 60 balls, 3 fours F A Rose not out 8 13 min, 14 balls, 1 four Extras (b14, lb3, w2, nb11) 30 Total (for 6, 138 overs) 381

Fall: 1-96 (Campbell), 2-145 (Hinds), 3-164 (Griffith), 4-302 (Lara), 5-335 (Sarwan), 6-373 (Adams).

To bat: C E L Ambrose, R D KIng, C A Walsh.

Bowling: Gough 25-5-92-1 (nb10) (5-1-15-0, 4-0-20-0, 2-1-10-0, 5-1-20-1, 5-0-22-0, 4-2-5-0); Caddick 23-4-64-1 (nb1) (2-0-7-0, 5-3-9-0, 4-1-9-0, 3-0-19-0, 2-0-5-0, 7-0-15-1); Cork 24-9-45-1 (7-4-10-0, 3-1-6-0, 3-1-5-0, 5-2-7-0, 1-0-1-0, 5-1-16-1); Croft 43-8-112-1 (2-0-2-0, 8-2-22-0, 4-2-8-0, 10-0-28-1, 8-2-23-0, 10-2-21-0, 1-0-8-0); White 20-5-46-1 (5-2-13-1, 3-1-3-0, 5-0-18-0, 5-1-11-0, 2-1-1-0); Trescothick 1-0-2-0 (w2); Vaughan 2-1-3-0 (1-0-3-0, 1-1-0-0).

Progress: Third day: 35-0 (Campbell 21, Grifith 12) 14 overs. 50: 91 min, 22.4 overs. 100: 170 min, 40 overs. Close: 131-1 (Griffith 41, Hinds 20) 48 overs. Fourth day: Rain stopped play: 11.09-11.13am 132-1 (Griffith 41, Hinds 20) 49.5 overs. 150: 240 min, 56.2 overs. 200: 310 min, 74.2 overs. Lunch: 211-3 (Lara 49, Adams 7) 77 overs. New ball: taken after 80 overs at 223-3. 250: 354 min, 85.1 overs. 300: 430 min, 104 overs. Tea: 305-4 (Adams 29, Sarwan 1) 106 overs. 350: 514 min, 125.3 overs.

Campbell 50: 131 min, 90 balls, 9 fours.

Griffith 50: 242 min, 185 balls, 5 fours.

Lara 50: 88 min, 64 balls, 3 fours, 1 six. 100: 155 min, 116 balls, 12 fours, 1 six.

Adams 50: 282 min, 214 balls, 5 fours.

Umpires: D B Cowie (Aus) and P Willey (Eng).