Lara delighted to triumph in the twilight zone

Sitting over a drink during the Old Trafford Test last month, Brian Lara confessed that he had no enthusiasm for the Champions Trophy. He has now. "I'm chuffed," he said. "I'm really happy." He had good cause to be.

West Indies' astonishing victory by two wickets here yesterday has profound implications for his own career, never mind West Indies cricket. After the Fourth Test, also at The Oval, four weeks ago, Lara was widely assumed to be captaining the Test team for the last time. Not any more.

By leading a promising young team to the final of this Trophy by Twilight, Lara had probably delayed his own demise. Although he declined to discuss his own future after the game, he is now assured of the continued leadership of the West Indies team. This is what he wanted.

He has always had an appetite for authority. But that was not foremost in his mind. He said how pleased he was for the team, and for the people of the Caribbean, who are suffering the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. He said they had given those people reason to rejoice. The day had been punctuated by appeals for the Grenadian and Jamaican relief funds, and the response appeared to be generous.

The win was, said Lara, "a great achievement under pressure". At 147 for 8, he could have been forgiven for giving up. He said he had kept the faith. "I've got to draw on something," he said.

What he chose to keep up the spirits was a stand between Andy Roberts and Deryck Murray against Pakistan the 1975 World Cup which lasted long enough to win the game. Lara himself was only six at the time, but the story is part of the legend of West Indian cricket.

The game was won by tailend batsmen, both, incidentally, in their thirties and from Barbados. As far as he knew, Ian Bradsaw had not even had a net before the game, but Lara's own contribution was significant.

Not with the bat. In the semi-final, he was felled by a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer. Yesterday he was hit painfully on the elbow by an Andrew Flintoff delivery. He sat on his haunches, rubbing hard and looking sorry for himself.

Not long after, he edged Flintoff - truly his nemesis - to the keeper, Geraint Jones. He had scored 14 off 28 balls with two fine fours, but his was the fourth wicket down, and, with the score on 72, England became strong favourites for the Trophy.

But he had been influential in the field. Michael Vaughan said that he had been only reasonably happy with England's 217; he would have preferred 20 or so more. Lara was one of the best reasons why England did not get more. His most important contribution was to catch Flintoff. Fielding at short midwicket, he fell swiftly to his left and caught a powerful pull no more than an inch from the ground.

Flintoff's innings was hopelessly below par. He was to come back with three wickets, but his dismissal was an essential part of the fabric of West Indies' victory.

Lara took two more catches at midwicket, easier than the Flintoff dismissal, but he had sure hands to see off Jones and Ashley Giles. His last contribution was almost as important as Flintoff's wicket because he ran in fast from mid-off to break the wicket with a direct hit before Marcus Trescothick had regained his ground. That alone might have saved 15 runs.

He said afterwards that, if this proves to be his last appearance in England, it was a phenomenal way to end his career here. So it was, and so it is likely to be. But no longer definitely

Lara had a wretched summer during the Tests, when he seemed incapable of inspiring his team. Yesterday looked very different. He will be in his late thirties when West Indies visit England again, and it must be improbable that he will still be around. But he said the win augurs well for the future.

Perhaps it augurs well for his future too.

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