Lara's injury fails to derail West Indies

Pakistan 131 West Indies 132-3
(West Indies win by 7 wkts)

When the world's fastest bowler goes head to head with the game's leading batsman, in the semi-final of a major tournament, there is always the chance of something special taking place. But for a couple of minutes yesterday in Southampton one feared this one-sided encounter would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

When the world's fastest bowler goes head to head with the game's leading batsman, in the semi-final of a major tournament, there is always the chance of something special taking place. But for a couple of minutes yesterday in Southampton one feared this one-sided encounter would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

The West Indies, chasing Pakistan's paltry total of 131, had reached 76 for 2 when Shoaib Akhtar decided to bowl Brian Lara a bouncer. The 95mph thunderbolt was well aimed and struck the left-hander on the head. Lara collapsed at the crease and lay on his back.

The Rawalpindi Express had jokingly told Lara he was going to kill him when he arrived at the crease. "I asked Brian what Shoaib had said to him," said Ramnaresh Sarwan, the non-striker. "He [Lara] said something about 'he was going to kill me', or something like that. But I wasn't sure what he said. I thought he was joking around."

After receiving treatment, a dazed Lara rose to his feet. The ball had hit him on the fleshy part of his neck, rather than on the jaw, which would have been more serious. He shaped to carry on, but after talking to Sarwan he chose to leave the field. His side went on to record a comfortable seven-wicket victory.

The West Indies captain will play against England in Saturday's ICC Champions' Trophy final at The Oval but he is sure to be feeling the after-effects.

The incident upset Shoaib. "Brian is my favourite batsman," he said. "I am sorry I have hit him, but it was honest bowling."

Shoaib made his Test debut against Lara in November 1997 and this was only the third time he has bowled at him. In a tight game Lara would probably have continued batting.

Inzamam-ul-Haq surprised everyone when he became only the second captain in this tournament to elect to bat after winning the toss. Yet on another cold, damp morning it looked a wise decision as Pakistan reached 100 for the loss of three wickets.

Then disaster struck. Yousuf Youhana edged a good ball from the effervescent Dwayne Bravo. The exciting all-rounder had already dismissed Shoaib Malik and had run Yasir Hameed out with a brilliant one-handed pick-up and throw from third man. Three overs later, he ran out Abdul Razzaq, again from third man. Then the innings fell apart as seven wickets went down for 31 runs in nine overs.

Quick wickets were needed as Shoaib opened the bowling for Pakistan. The paceman ripped out the openers, but then he encountered sterner resistance as Lara blasted 31 off 30 balls and Sarwan made batting look relatively easy on a difficult pitch. Arrests were made among disgruntled sections of the crowd as the match drifted towards its inevitable conclusion.

* A fractured left thumb may force the Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, to miss his side's eagerly awaited tour to India. The first Test, in Bangalore, is scheduled to begin on 6 October.

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