Vaughan will not let Lara dominate his thinking

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The Independent Online

England have been attempting to play down the need to dismiss Brian Lara cheaply during the build-up to today's first Test at Sabina Park. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, has preferred to talk about the West Indian batting as a unit rather than single out their leading player. This is not through disrespect. The problem for Vaughan is that should he stand up in front of his team and talk about what Lara is capable of, he runs the risk of turning his bowlers into gibbering wrecks.

England have been attempting to play down the need to dismiss Brian Lara cheaply during the build-up to today's first Test at Sabina Park. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, has preferred to talk about the West Indian batting as a unit rather than single out their leading player. This is not through disrespect. The problem for Vaughan is that should he stand up in front of his team and talk about what Lara is capable of, he runs the risk of turning his bowlers into gibbering wrecks.

Since his Test debut in 1990 Lara has been the world's outstanding batsman. Sachin Tendulkar may have averaged more during this period but it is the West Indian captain who has played the most memorable innings and scored the most runs.

England should spend the same amount of time discussing each West Indian batsman but Vaughan knows that Lara is the man he has to control if he wishes to become the first England captain to win a series here in 36 years. Experts will point out slight flaws in Lara's technique and suggest he is susceptible in certain areas but what counts is whether his bat makes contact with the ball and where it ends up. Controlling Lara is one of the biggest challenges England's bowlers will ever face.

When England first encountered him at this ground in 1994 there were rumours he had a weakness against the short ball. Devon Malcolm attempted to exploit this and, to his credit, made the left-hander look uncomfortable for a short period. Lara scored 83 and 28 in the match but this was as good as it was to get for England. In the next four Tests he scored a further 687 runs, including his 375 in Antigua.

In Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones England have two bowlers with the pace to unsettle him but on the small grounds of the Caribbean it is risky. Anything with width will be punished and there is nothing these crowds enjoy more than the ball flying to the boundary.

Lara also has the tendency to jump across in front of his stumps early in his innings and this makes him susceptible to the in-swinger. With James Anderson looking set to carry the drinks Matthew Hoggard is the bowler whom Vaughan will use if England follow this plan.

It is one thing to have a plan but it requires a great deal of skill from a bowler to put it into action. Against brilliant players you have little margin for error and this makes it crucial for Harmison, Jones, Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles to perform at their optimum.

Control is the key and this only comes from bowling with discipline and through pitching the ball in the right area. If England can do this they have a chance because Lara, like all West Indian batsmen, wants to score freely and entertain. "I want our fast bowlers to go out and enjoy the experience," said Vaughan. "They need to believe in their own game but they have been selected because they are good enough to play at this level. It is important to enjoy playing in these conditions against excitable opposition and in front of great crowds.

"The nature of their cricket is a positive for us. If we can bowl dot balls and maidens you know that something is going to happen around the corner. A part of our game plan is keeping their batsmen quiet. The aim is to make them look for different ways of scoring."

England's tactics were put to Lara later but failed to concern the West Indian captain. "It will be a big task for England to dry up runs in the Caribbean," he said. "England have their way of trying to win this series and we have our way but our batsmen know the conditions, they know what to expect from the English bowlers and we will be going out there to come out on top. Our mission is to win every session."

Following the fiasco of six years ago, when a sub-standard pitch caused the Test match against England to be abandoned after 56 minutes, a great deal of attention has been paid to the surface. The locals say it is some time since they last saw a Sabina Park pitch with this much grass on it but the surface looks true and it should keep the batsmen happy for the first three days.

The West Indies will look forward to playing here. Since 1998 they have won five consecutive Test matches on the ground.

England's preparations finished on a high when Mark Butcher passed a fitness test on his left ankle. He will play unless there is any reaction to the strenuous session he was put through.

ENGLAND (from): Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), Trescothick (Somerset), Butcher (Surrey), Hussain (Essex), Thorpe (Surrey), Flintoff (Lancashire), Read (Notts, wkt), Giles (Warwickshire), Jones (Glamorgan), Hoggard (Yorkshire), Harmison (Durham), Anderson (Lancashire).

WEST INDIES (from): Lara (capt), Gayle, Smith, Chanderpaul, R Hinds, Sarwan, Jacobs (wkt), Powell, Sanford, Best, Collymore, Edwards.

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