star batsman Brian Lara almost clashes with umpire Ian Howell
during the First Test. Lara has been given three controversial
dismissals in his four Test innings in the current series
against Australia. AP photo
West Indies defeat and series whitewash is almost being
taken for granted. But for all of his struggles in the first
two Tests - against some of the best bowlers in the world
and the vagaries of elite umpires - cricket fans of every
hue, creed and nationality are willing Brian Lara to recapture
the form that has made him a favourite in the eyes of millions
going into what will surely be his farewell Test Down Under.
In the context of a series that is already effectively over
with Australia holding a 2-0 lead and retaining the Frank
Worrell Trophy, the third and final Test beginning tomorrow
(tonight Caribbean time) at the Adelaide Oval would not
be expected to generate considerable interest, especially
in light of the home side's comfortable margins of victory
in Brisbane and Hobart.
However almost 13 years after a masterful and momentous
maiden Test hundred in Melbourne captivated the cricketing
world, even die-hard Australian fans are quietly hoping
that the West Indies' champion batsman ends a horrendous
tour on a high note.
Yet as much as Lara may deserve more than a touch of good
fortune in the wake of three dubious umpiring decisions
already at the Gabba and Bellerive Oval, it is really those
around him who will effectively determine whether there
is any reason to hope for a slowing down of the slide and,
eventually, a turnaround sometime in the future that would
put West Indies cricket back to the competitive level which
everyone with genuine concern for the welfare of the game
believes it belongs.
Indeed, with injury and surgery creating opportunities for
two other players, the tourists have the chance to show
that there is enough quality and commitment in reserve,
so putting pressure on established members of the batting
order and threatening places that some of the established
players may have come to view as their right rather than
a treasured privilege.
With Marlon Samuels back in his native Jamaica resting his
injured knee and compatriot Chris Gayle convalescing in
Melbourne after surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat,
the West Indies tour selectors are at least saved from the
sometimes futile debate over who should comprise the batting
With only what is now a 13-man squad, including five fast
bowlers, there really is no choice but to recall Wavell
Hinds to partner Devon Smith at the top of the order while
Dwayne Smith will have the chance to show that he is more
than just an exciting but one-dimensional cricketer capable
only of thrilling fielding and catching and spectacular
While the bowling attack is less straightforward, it may
be difficult for head coach Bennett King to alter the combination
from the one that played in the second Test the previous
weekend. Daren Powell bowled poorly in that match, but Jermaine
Lawson looked short of work and failed to impress in the
first Test before being troubled by injuries again.
The only other alternative, Tino Best, has done little,
except with his polished lower-order batting, to suggest
that he has made any strides forward in developing into
a thinking, disciplined pacer.
On a pitch that head curator Les Burdett expects will play
true to form - a veritable batting paradise over the first
three days before deterioration gives the spinners a bigger
say in the latter stages - Australia are expected to retain
the double wrist-spin attack of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill
with Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee sharing the new ball.
As announced earlier in the week, Justin Langer's recovery
from a cracked rib sustained just five days before the first
Test forced the home selectors into one tough decision in
omitting Michael Clarke and sending Mike Hussey into the
middle-order to ensure that the highly successes opening
partnership between Langer and Matthew Hayden is resumed.
Even with the series settled, there is an air of competitiveness
in the Australian batting order, especially with captain
Ricky Ponting cracking the whip in the aftermath of the
second Test win and making it clear that no-one 's position
in the side is safe.
It cannot be said that the same healthy attitude abounds
among West Indies batsmen.
In fact, few, if any, of the very recent crop seem to have
learnt from the practical examples of Lara and captain Shivnarine
Chanderpaul on the virtues of lengthy occupation of the
crease, striving for consistency and holding their wickets
to a very high premium.
Much has been made, quite understandably, in the aftermath
of Dwayne Bravo's second Test hundred and a 182-run seventh-wicket
partnership with Denesh Ramdin in Hobart.
But the challenge for the many West Indian youngsters in
the side and even those on the fringe, who hope to wear
the coveted burgundy cap, is to achieve consistently high
levels of performance.
For Lara, the only consistent factor has been injustices
meted out to him by umpires so far in the series.
Now he has his last chance to leave Australian fans with
something to remember him by.
It may be overdue, although the 36-year-old has always found
consistent Test runs hard to come by here.
In the West Indies' previous three Test series in Australia,
Lara only scored one hundred in each of those rubbers -
277 at Sydney in 1992/93, 132 at Perth in 1996/97 and 182
at Adelaide in 2000/01 - and with the eighth-ranked Caribbean
side given only a three-Test series Down Under for the first
time in almost 24 years, this is the Trinidadian's last
chance to leave his mark on a forgettable campaign.
The eyes are not as sharp, the footwork is slower and the
trademark high backlight may now be more of a hindrance
than a help, but Lara is nothing if not a champion among
his peers, with a desire to leave a legacy in the game that
may help to blot out the indiscretions of a sometimes chequered
A sun-drenched Adelaide Oval would be an ideal setting for
him to go out in style.
Yet in the context of the future of West Indies cricket,
a greater team effort, even in the face of defeat and without
the heavy reliance on a monumental Lara innings, would surely
point towards the light of hope at the end of a decade-long
journey through an ever-darkening tunnel.
AUSTRALIA (probable) - Ricky Ponting (captain), Matthew
Hayden, Justin Langer, Brad Hodge, Mike Hussey, Andrew Symonds,
Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill,
WEST INDIES (probable) - Shivnarine Chanderpaul (captain),
Devon Smith, Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brian Lara,
Dwayne Smith, Dwayne Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Daren Powell,
Fidel Edwards, Corey Collymore. (CMC)