Lara's return yields dazzling display

West Indies 281-6 v South Africa

Stimulated by his loss of the captaincy and demotion to the ranks, Brian Lara responded with a dazzling, almost inevitable hundred on his return to Test cricket yesterday.

Stimulated by his loss of the captaincy and demotion to the ranks, Brian Lara responded with a dazzling, almost inevitable hundred on his return to Test cricket yesterday.

Replaced by Shivnarine Chanderpaul after opting out of the first Test over a contracts dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board, Lara batted with the fierce determination surrounded by the turbulence that has, yet again, swirled around him over the past few weeks and with the flair that has made him the contemporary game's most exciting player.

On a well grassed pitch no other batsman could fully come to terms with, the master left-hander completed his 27th Test hundred that denied South Africa the complete initiative on the first day of the second Test. Lara closed the day unbeaten 159 after five hours 55 minutes, an innings studded with 20 fours, flashing drives and pulls, with the West Indies 281 for 6.

It was his first match since the one-day VB Series in Australia in January and his first in first-class cricket since the final Test against England at The Oval in London last August. But his stroke play was as assured as if he had never been away.

Lara's 27th Test hundred carried him clear of another flamboyant left-hander, Garry Sobers, as the most by a West Indian. On the way, he surpassed the Indians Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar on Test cricket's list of highest-run scorers, leaving him behind only the Australians, Allan Border and Steve Waugh.

Three wickets in the space of 22 runs after tea took some of the gloss off Lara's effort following successive partnerships, each of 95, with the two double-century makers of the drawn first Test, Wavell Hinds, who made 32, and Chanderpaul, 37.

Chanderpaul pushed a return catch to the left-arm spinner Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini claimed his fourth wicket of the innings by bowling Donovan Pagon without scoring in the next over and Andre Nel sneaked a ball that kept low through Dwayne Bravo's defence to leave the West Indies 225 for 6. But Lara found a solid partner in the wicketkeeper Courtney Browne, who shared an unbroken stand of 56.

Lara came to the middle on his home ground of the Queen's Park Oval to the relieved acclaim of his fellow Trinidadians with the West Indies faltering at 13 for 2 after Chanderpaul chose to bat in spite of the bowler friendly appearance of the pitch.

First day; West Indies won toss

WEST INDIES ­ First Innings

W W Hinds c Smith b Ntini 32

C H Gayle c Boucher b Ntini 6

R R Sarwan c Nel b Ntini 5

B C Lara not out 159

*S Chanderpaul c and b Boje 35

D J Pagon b Ntini 0

D J J Bravo b Nel 5

ÝC O Browne not out 19

Extras (b4 lb6 w2 nb3 pens 5) 20

Total (for 6, 87 overs) 281

Fall: 1-7 2-13 3-108 4-203 5-204 6-225.

To bat: D B Powell, P T Collins, R D King.

Bowling: Nel 20-6-43-1; Ntini 19-2-59-4; Kallis 13-4-41-0; Zondeki 15-0-71-0; Boje 20-2-52-1.

SOUTH AFRICA: *G C Smith, A B de Villiers, J A Rudolph, J H Kallis, H H Gibbs, A G Prince, ÝM V Boucher, N Boje, M Ntini, A Nel, M Zondeki.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and D R Shepherd (Eng).

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