Lara's young side wilt under pressure

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The Independent Online

Not two months since Brian Lara was bemoaning that "it doesn't get lower than this", it did. The latest West Indies capitulation here yesterday was even more sudden and stunning than the 54 all out in a one-day international under lights at Cape Town last January when, at least, the wobbling white ball was a factor.

Not two months since Brian Lara was bemoaning that "it doesn't get lower than this", it did. The latest West Indies capitulation here yesterday was even more sudden and stunning than the 54 all out in a one-day international under lights at Cape Town last January when, at least, the wobbling white ball was a factor.

It was comparable, instead, with their second-innings 54 in the Lord's Test five years ago when Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Dominic Cork were as inspired and irresistible as Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones.

It was, once again, evidence of the West Indies' susceptibility to sustained pressure. It was, too, a tribute to England's diligent preparation and discipline. Duncan Fletcher, England's perfectionist coach, was unhappy with his bowlers' collective line in the first innings. There were no more than a half-dozen deliveries yesterday that might have displeased him.

Hoggard's direct, full-length swing from the Blue Mountains' end shackled Chris Gayle, while Harmison made the most of his height to generate bounce that no batsman could handle.

The first short and wide delivery drew the anticipated response from Gayle but his cut shot was loose and Graham Thorpe hung on to the sharp catch at third slip. Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara, the core of the batting, were all dispatched precisely as they were in the first innings after which it was only a matter of how long and by how much for England. Sarwan's pair was completed with the same across-the-line shuffle. Chanderpaul once more deflected the ball back into his stumps. Lara stabbed hard at a delivery from Jones angled across him and edged into the slips.

The beleaguered West Indies captain is in his second tenure at the helm, following his resignation first time round in 2000 after what he described as "modest success and devastating failure".

The next Test, starting on Thursday, is in his home town of Port of Spain, Trinidad where he enjoys the status of royalty. The welcome should be altogether more welcoming than the booing that greeted his team in Sabina as they traipsed out for yesterday's presentation.

He is carrying a dislocated finger but will lead the team out at the Queen's Park Oval with a weight on his shoulders as heavy as it was in 1999 when he returned from a 5-0 walloping in South Africa to be routed for 51 by Australia.

He himself then engineered a remarkable comeback with innings of 212 and 153 not out that carried the West Indies to victory in the next two Tests and an eventual 2-2 share of the series.

His future as captain now hangs on his ability to repeat the same magic.

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