Thursday 24th November, 2005


Lara hopes for Fond farewell

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WI 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

Another 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 order.

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 hitting.

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 career.

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, Glenn McGrath.

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)



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