Lara the leader without followers

NatWest Series: Master craftsman opens up to give his team a flying start but then the familiar failings return

If the NatWest Series needs anything, it is runs. Indeed on the neediness scale of one to 10 it has probably reached 10. The highest total of this summer's competition was reached yesterday. It was a meagre 216, or slightly more than four an over.

They score at that rate in Test cricket these days, which is bad news for the one-day game. It was not invented for prolonged spells of bowling ascendancy, otherwise there would have been no point in it ever leaving the laboratory.

Still, the highest total in this series before yesterday's game was 147, so maybe it is at last taking off. By the final next Saturday somebody might stir themselves to reach the heights of 300. Or not. It is that kind of season.

For a while yesterday, especially when Brian Lara was at the crease, West Indies looked capable of something mountainous, and then New Zealand looked equally capable of at least rushing to the target in a blaze of strokeplay. Neither ambition was achieved.

For the West Indies, it was familiar territory. But then all territory from sunlit uplands to the dark recesses below is familiar to them, though mostly the latter. Every time they seem to have turned a corner, they hit a brick wall, and they have a renewable return season ticket on the sublime to ridiculous line.

Last winter, at the lowest of many low points in South Africa they were all out for 54, yet later in the series sailed past a target of 297. Later on, they seemed to have the measure of England in the one-day series in the Caribbean before being held to an honourable 2-2 draw, but then made a big deal of defeating Bangladesh.

Such fitfulness creates permanent uncertainty, which revealed itself again yesterday as they walked out to bat at Sophia Gardens after being inserted. There was Chris Gayle, their regular, intermittently destructive opening batsman, and on his shoulder was the best batsman in the world, who is not their regular opening batsman.

Indeed, it is almost five years since Lara last opened for the one-day side (when he did it four times) and 10 since he regularly batted there. Only last week, he suggested England were misguided in pairing Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan as openers because they were putting all their best fruit at the top of the basket, where they could be all too easily plucked. The best players, he implied, needed some protection before coming in to take advantage as the white ball, so awkward early on, started to go softer.

Yet here he was contradicting his own advice, perhaps to be seen to be taking responsibility, perhaps once more for short-term expediency. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who has opened more than he has batted anywhere else and has an average of 40 doing so, was demoted to No 4.

Lara had to succeed. He did, though it was only up to a point. For the time he was in, extravagantly handsome in his shot-making, West Indies were sure of a commanding total. If the footballer Thierry Henry, featuring in a currently voguish TV advertisement, still wants to know what va-va-voom is here was his answer. Lara could have been the man who put the va-va into voom in French or any other language - and nor was he saving his best for the commercials.

He was dropped at 26, a difficult chance at point that Paul Collingwood might have caught with his eyes shut, but that poor Craig McMillan could merely parry. How the Kiwis might have rued that. But at 58, made at a run a ball and not long after reaching his fifty with a straight six, he received a bouncer from Chris Cairns. Next ball, Cairns unleashed his demonic slower ball and Lara pushed at it early, looping it to mid-on. Stephen Fleming stretched his legs and eventually tumbled forward to claim the catch. It was worth the effort.

With Lara gone, there was always the chance that West Indies might self-destruct. They moved, however, from 83 for 1 to 180 for 3, ready for the final charge. Gayle and Chanderpaul had gone but Ramnaresh Sarwan was present and correct. They then self-destructed, allying some inept running with some lackadaisical stroke making, which down the ages has generally been a pretty potent combination in assuring downfall. Nobody, not even Sarwan, showed the inclination to see it out.

Like England, West Indies have shown a recent tendency to lose when batting first and this was not designed to make them feel at ease with themselves holding a bat in their hands early in a match. Their bowling had to demonstrate a discipline not present in their batting. Jermaine Lawson's first delivery was a no ball which went for four. His second ball was a wide.

It was hardly a message to the rest of the side that this was how to do it. But for Lawson, suspended last year because of the dubious legality of his action, the odd wide is a mere bagatelle. He responded to Nathan Astle clumping him for a top-edged six by holding up the next delivery and seeing it clipped to Chanderpaul at square-leg.

Fleming was in one of his pleasantly assertive, extremely easy on the eye moods, but he did not make the most of being put down by Cartlon Baugh behind the stumps on 38. Seven runs later, attempting to hook Dwayne Bravo, he skied the ball and the bowler took the catch.

Bravo, whose sheer exuberance for his task seems to bring him wickets, became the tournament's leading wicket-taker when he bowled Scott Styris.

Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue