Slips that show the naked truth about Lara's bowling options

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ON THIS heavily cracked pitch, which is well grassed in places and bare in others, it seemed almost certain it would be the West Indies four fast bowlers who would take them to victory. A week ago, England were looking to their seamers to win the second Test match for them - and we all know what happened then.

Brian Lara started the day with Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose and the West Indies went about their business as if it had been ordained that these two would start England's downfall. It was almost as if they were going through the motions. Not only did they fail to take wickets, however, but the runs began to come rather too freely for Lara's liking.

He found himself facing the age old dilemma. While it was imperative he took wickets, he also had to make sure that too many runs were not given away. It is never easy to get the balance just right. Lara showed that he understood the problem though when, right from the start, he used a third man and a fine leg.

This meant that all he could find for his illustrious pair of opening bowlers was three slips. When after 10 overs Kenny Benjamin took over from Walsh, he was given only one slip when he bowled at Alec Stewart, who had gone for his strokes from the start.

Lara alternated his four fast bowlers but still that elusive first wicket would not fall. He kept them on and looked increasingly surprised as if he were a lion tamer in a circus who suddenly found his charges would not perform for him. He did not know what to do.

When he did not turn to Carl Hooper, whose off-breaks have looked dangerous whenever he has been used in Port of Spain, it was further evidence that he was working to a pre-arranged plan. When Atherton and Stewart survived the opening assault a more astute captain might at that point have given Hooper a short spell. The batsmen would have been anticipating a constant barrage from the fast bowlers and might have found it difficult to retune their thinking.

Hooper has dismissed three good batsmen in this series - Graham Thorpe twice and Stewart - and his captain should have shown greater trust in him now.

When he finally threw the ball to Hooper he had time for only four overs before rain started the lunch interval five minutes early and in those overs he caused both batsmen problems and Atherton gave a technical chance to forward short leg when he tried to drive him over midwicket.

Twenty years ago, Clive Lloyd, the present West Indies team manager, would have begun with Michael Marshall and Michael Holding and then, without thinking, would have brought on Joel Garner and Colin Croft.

On this sort of pitch there would have been no need for anyone else. The present West Indian pace is not in the same class and it calls for more imaginative captaincy to winkle sides out.