Lara's downfall heralds collapse

West Indies v Sri Lanka
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The Independent Online
The spirit of Edgbaston is spreading. Cricket's under-dogs are on the rise. First England upset all the predictions in the opening Ashes series, now little-fancied Sri Lanka have put the pressure on the West Indies in the first Test of this brief series - the first between the teams on Caribbean soil.

Sent in on a moist pitch, Sri Lanka rallied to a still modest first innings of 223 on the opening day, when they should have been hard pressed to raise half that against the high-quality West Indian quartet of fast bowlers. But only Curtly Ambrose was up to exploiting the conditions, with five wickets that brought his tally in Tests to exactly 300.

Then the Sri Lankans, through a combination of lively pace and clever spin, bowled the temperamentally suspect home team out for 189, securing an unlikely lead of 34. Even though they immediately lost their first- innings top scorer Sanath Jayasuriya to a slip catch off Ambrose's second ball of their second innings, and will have to bat without their reliable left-hander Hashan Tillakaratne, who had his right forearm fractured in the first innings, they can fancy their chances of emulating England as the West Indies have to bat last.

Resuming at 56 for 1, the West Indies gave no indication of the troubles that would envelop them later as the overnight pair, the opener Sherwin Campbell and the tall left handed newcomer Floyd Reifer, batted through the first hour with few alarms. But then Ravindra Pushpakumara, a burly, bustling fast bowler, struck twice in the space of ten minutes to undermine West Indian confidence.

Reifer had made 29 when he clearly edged a catch to the keeper, the somewhat more illustrious Brian Lara had not scored when he too fell to a keeper's catch off his sixth ball, although his fall was far less clear. The umpire, Lloyd Barker, spent some time before raising his finger to the shouting, leaping Sri Lankan appeals, and the television replay indicated he had erred.

The sight of Lara marching back to the pavilion silenced the usually noisy crowd and, as always, will have caused nervous flutters in the dressing room.

Campbell followed him just before lunch to a stunning catch at backward point by Muttiah Muralitharan after making a 50. Muralitharan was to have far more impact on proceedings after the interval as he spun a web of uncertainty around batsmen confused by his flight variations and excessive spin. He ended a partnership of 46 when he deceived Carl Hooper with a faster straight ball and had him lbw for 27.

Two balls later Roland Holder drove back a return catch to the other off spinner, Kumara Dharmasena, after making 28, and the tail-enders could not make head nor tail of Muralitharan after that. The last six wickets tumbled for 21 off 71 balls in just 50 minutes.