Lara's dismal theme continues

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The Independent Online

reports from Northampton

Northamptonshire 281

West Indians 268-5

Match drawn

Creating a contest from two days of cricket is not an easy business with the best of wills, and it should surprise no one that the third of the Tetley Challenge matches became a largely meaningless meander yesterday.

There was some discussion between the two acting captains with a view to contriving a finish after Northamptonshire had batted all day on Sunday, but Robert Bailey's idea of a reasonable run chase for the tourists did not, apparently, correspond with Courtney Walsh's.

The West Indians instead opted for what amounted to an extended net, although in the case of Brian Lara the opportunity to play himself into form for Headingley came and went in the space of two deliveries.

It was only his second firstclass innings of the tour and the first for three weeks since his 78 at Worcester. He missed the match with Somerset because of a groin injury and was excused facing Leicestershire so that he could return to Trinidad to sort out some complications arising from the building of his house.

One could reasonably assume that a decent knock here would be the ideal way to refocus his mind on Test cricket, so quite why he should approach his second ball, from Ian Taylor, with so little caution is anyone's guess. It was missing off stump by a wide margin, at least before Lara's wild swing redirected it on to the stumps off the bottom edge.

Both openers, Sherwin Campbell and Stuart Williams, went for identical scores, offering no further clues as to which of them will accompany Carl Hooper in opening the Headingley innings.

So Lara's well-being can only be taken on trust which must be a worry to the tour management. The last time he faced England in a Test, of course, he made that small matter of 375 runs, but his Test form since then has been modest, by his standards, 14 innings against India and Australia yielding 506 runs at 38.62.

It was left to another left hander, Keith Arthurton, to enthral yesterday's crowd and his second century in consecutive games should confirm his place in the Test side ahead of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. His unbeaten 121 included three sixes and 20 fours.