Genius brooks no argument

Stephen Fay sympathises with the supporters whose hopes were shattered
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HOW DO England followers cope when watching Brian Lara ending their hopes of winning the series and the Wisden Trophy? These are some ways.

Discuss theory: what Lara proved yesterday is that attack really is the best form of defence. He played and missed, especially to Devon Malcom, in such a flamboyant manner that he looked like a man who has quite forgotten how vulnerable feels.

Speculate: What would have happened if Mike Watkinson's throw had hit the stumps with Lara out of his ground, having scored only 30, just before lunch.

Prevaricate: If you are Michael Atherton, and Lara moves from 50 to 150 in 107 balls, you try to keep down the scoring rate. This strategy is sure to fail.

Study technique: Lara's genius makes discussion of technique virtually redundant. Basically, his technique is to play an attacking shot at every ball that is not aimed directly at the wicket.

Seek comfort in denial: When Lara had reached his prime and was in his pomp after tea, Mike Brearley sat in the press box and read War and Peace (volume two in the Everyman edition).

Sit back and enjoy it: When Jason Gallian is bowling, Lara plays the ball neatly towards fine leg for two and Atherton sets a third slip to stop such nonsense. Consequently Lara hits Gallian back over his head for four, for six to long on and then for another four to cover point. Sublime.

Whistle a happy tune: When Devon Malcom is bowling you cheer him for every stride of his run up. Eventually, this method works, and Lara, having scored 179 off 206 balls, hitting one six and 26 fours clouts Malcom off the back foot and is well caught by Angus Fraser at mid-off.

And what do you do when Brian Lara walks back to the pavilion, looking tired but contented? You give him a proper standing ovation, which means that all 16,000 people are on their feet applauding a man who is different from other batsmen in the way that the rich are different from the rest of us. (Unless they are merely lottery-rich of course).

After the first three Tests, England followers, while utterly denying any suggestion of Schadenfreude did enjoy poring over Lara's loss of form, attributing it mainly to a relentless desire to maximise his income rather than his runs. In the last three Tests he has scored 87, 145, 152, 20 and 179. The truth is that Lara is priceless.

His commitment in this key match has been exemplary. On Friday night when the crowds had gone, Lara ran a solitary lap of the Oval before batting for half an hour in a net. (Bowling courtesy of Rajindra Dhanraj.) Yesterday morning, Lara was back in the nets, giving Surrey Colts a treat. (Not everyone was impressed; a technician sat within 10 yards of the great man watching a tennis match on a television monitor.) But we know what Lara was doing. The jargon tells us so: he was getting focused.

When play ended Lara appeared looking neat (maroon blazer, white shirt, tie, grey slacks), relaxed (leaning against a wall faced by a press of reporters) and confident. The bad news for England is that he does not want to bat a second time and nor do the West Indies. Lara revealed that they would like to bat until after tea today and then, he thinks, England will struggle.

As for the 179, it wasn't enough. "You want to stay there until the captain declares." Had he done so, England's followers might not have been able to cope.