Lara holds the key to quest for victory

The weather has denied the West Indies valuable time in their quest for the victory here that would level the series and retain the Wisden Trophy. Yet, on all previous evidence, three days are more than sufficient for them to achieve a result.

The weather has denied the West Indies valuable time in their quest for the victory here that would level the series and retain the Wisden Trophy. Yet, on all previous evidence, three days are more than sufficient for them to achieve a result.

The onus is clearly on them to force the pace. They must win, England need only to draw, but at least they start this morning knowing exactly where they stand. The batsmen must replicate their performances at Edgbaston and the second innings at Old Trafford.

Their inclination to sudden collapse is well established and has been spectacularly confirmed twice in this series, with the 54 at Lord's and the 61 at Headingley, but the 397 in their only innings of the first Test and the 438 for 7 declared in the fightback of the third demonstrated their capacity for big scores.

Everyone has to contribute but it is stating the obvious to identify Brian Lara as the key to the course of the match. No one in the contemporary game is capable of scoring heavier or quicker, both of which are essential for the West Indies to make up for yesterday's delay.

He has spoken about his renewed enthusiasm following his lengthy sabbatical earlier this year and has certainly seemed keen and involved throughout. He has played all except three of the first-class matches on tour and only his suspect hamstring kept him out of a couple of those.

It has been a generally disappointing series for the left-hander. His 50 at Edgbaston and 112 at Old Trafford have been counterbalanced by failures of 6, 5, 13, 4 and 2 but both sides are aware that, like all the most gifted sportsmen, he can find his best touch at the most opportune moment. For the West Indies, there is none more opportune that this.

The West Indies should be encouraged by their fightback in this Test which has been achieved by dint of purposeful, disciplined cricket. They can also take heart from England's strangely negative approach yesterday morning when they were choked by Jimmy Adams' defensive strategy, even with the second new ball.

It revealed a team intent more on the draw that would protect their lead than the win that would extend it - and this from the dominance of an opening stand of 159.

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, agreed that his side had fallen short of a par score but praised his batsmen. "We'd have liked a few more runs but that wicket is assisting the bowlers. I think 300 to 320 would have been a score we would have looked at," he said.

"Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick really battled well in that first hour. Runs were at a premium, then all of a sudden something happens and you lose two wickets to put us on the back foot."

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