Lara wary of his bowlers' lack of Test experience

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The Independent Online

Brian Lara had two contrasting considerations yesterday morning before the start of the first Test with England at Sabina Park when the coin landed on the opposite side to Michael Vaughan's hopeful "heads".

Hard, with encouraging if not overgenerous evidence of grass, the pitch had the look of that on which he had put Sri Lanka in last June and dismissed their strong batting line-up for 208 by the end of the opening day.

Fidel Edwards and Corey Collymore would have been straining at the bit to get back on to such an inviting environment, more especially after the pasting they and their colleagues had to endure in South Africa recently.

However, it was that experience, as much as anything, that would have influenced Lara's decision to bat. The captain had clearly, and understandably, lost confidence in his bowlers during the South African tour where they were, without putting too fine a point on it, abysmal, and where the opposition amassed two totals in excess of 600 and two of more than 500 in the four Tests.

The four at his disposal here ­ the fiery but untested Tino Best and the muscular Adam Sanford along with Collymore and Edwards ­ have 24 Tests and 77 wickets between them. It was not a statistic to persuade a risk. Batting is by far the West Indies' strongest suit ­ in spite of the 3-0 drubbing in South Africa, there were eight individual hundreds ­ and Lara backed it.

As it turned out, conditions once more aided the fast bowlers and England's applied themselves with admirable discipline. By lunch, they had asserted an actual and psychological dominance that will be difficult to break.

It did, however, provide Devon Smith, the compact little left-handed opener from Grenada, with the chance to show his worth on his reinstatement in the team. A first-class cricketer since he was 17, Smith was elevated to the Test team for four Tests against Australia last year. However, inconsistent performances against Steve Waugh's side cost him a place on the tours of Zimbabwe and South Africa.

A session with Sir Garry Sobers put him back on track. His selection was inevitable after he was the top batsman in the Carib Beer Series of first-class cricket with 842 runs in seven matches at an average of 76. Smith's innings, as he took charge after the loss of the four leading batsman, revealed a steely temperament, essential for anyone at the top of the order.