Shock tactic that woke up West Indies

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The Independent Online

Brian Lara's crucial hundred yesterday, as inevitable as it was overdue, had most of its origins in the embarrassment previously inflicted on him and his team-mates by England's hostile, Bodyline blitz at Lord's and in the first innings here.

Brian Lara's crucial hundred yesterday, as inevitable as it was overdue, had most of its origins in the embarrassment previously inflicted on him and his team-mates by England's hostile, Bodyline blitz at Lord's and in the first innings here.

The West Indies have become accustomed to intimidating fast bowlers, making batsmen hop around, forcing close catches, causing painful bodily harm, but they have generally been on their side. To suddenly have the roles reversed and find Darren Gough, Andy Caddick and Craig White creating the mayhem came as an affront to natural West Indian machoism.

Even more of a shock were the images of Lara himself, among the most devastating batsmen of all time, unsettled by such an assault. Most incriminating was the picture on many of Friday's sports pages of Lara fending off a Gough bouncer, with his feet off the ground, eyes closed behind his psychedelic sunglasses, a grimace on his face, bat turned back to front.

Not long after, he pushed uncertainly at one angled across his body and, for the fourth successive time in the series, the third time off Gough, was caught off the outside edge. It was time to fight back.

Lara prepared himself for the mission with assiduous practice. The players had hardly left the field after Saturday's play than he was on the ground for an impromptu knock-up session. During yesterday's lunch interval, when he was already 49, he adjourned to the nets and spent 20 minutes batting against Nixon McLean, Corey Collymore and Mahendra Nagamootoo. He meant business and yesterday Lara carried it out.

It wasn't long before Gough tested him by digging the ball into a pitch that has become much slower as the game has progressed. The response was a pull through mid-on, which was mistimed and only raised a couple of runs. But by the time he had assessed the character of the pitch and the bowling, Lara was on to anything short in a flash and pounding it through the leg-side.

The West Indies needed this performance as much as they did in the Caribbean against Australia last year. Then, his 214 in the second Test and his unbeaten 153 in the third earned victories against the world's strongest team at a time when he was under probation as captain after six straight defeats.

Had he fallen cheaply yesterday, the near certainty was that the West Indies would have fallen with him. The consequences of such a capitulation were potentially disastrous for it would have been difficult to regenerate the collective spirit after that.

Now, if they can convert their comeback into final victory today, they will be hard to stop.

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