Lara's tardy arrival is hoisting of white flag

Even the DJ in the Trini Posse Stand, where Brian Lara commands a status of deity among the youthful, gyrating fans, got it wrong. "A big welcome for the West Indies captain," he urged, taking it for granted that their hero was the figure emerging to, once more, come to the rescue of his struggling team.

Yet the burly figure marching out to the middle was not the captain but the wicketkeeper, Ridley Jacobs, whose usual position is No 7. It was, even to many of Lara's devoted countrymen, the official hoisting of the white flag by a West Indies team humiliated by its all-out 47 and defeat in the first Test in Jamaica and its collapse in the first innings here.

When Lara still did not appear at the dismissal of the vice-captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan, after lunch, sending in Shivnarine Chanderpaul instead, there was no other interpretation than that it was a shameful shirking of responsibility by the captain of a team in desperate need of his leadership and his feared batting.

Mighty West Indies teams under the direction of Clive Lloyd established a policy that became the prototype for all others, of targeting the opposition captain on the sound supposition that once the head is destroyed, the body would also wither.

Lloyd left a succession of broken captains in his wake. England followed it to the letter this series. They are as aware as every Test side that Lara is the hub around which the West Indies' batting is built. The effectiveness of the plan is reflected in Lara's scores: 23, 0, 0 and 8.

Lara's official explanation for the shift was that it was "tactical". The line would have been that Lara needed to come to the crease when the ball was softer and the bowlers wearier. It would be the chance for him to regain his form and confidence.

These were limp reasons for what, however it is dressed, was a cop-out. His cheap dismissal simply compounded it. Nothing could save his side from another heavy loss, the repercussions of which are likely to be drastic.