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CARIBBEAN - cricket - Digicel second Test against South Africa - Trinidad

Makhaa Ntini celebrating Donovan Pagon's wicket. Ntini has taken 4/59.

Saturday 09, April-2005 by Fazeer Mohammed

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – Brian Lara made a storybook return to the West Indies team yesterday, holding the home team’s innings together witha majestic unbeaten 159 that lifted his side to 281 for six at the end of the opening day of the Digicel second Test against South Africa.

Turning down an offer to play in the drawn first Test while three other players were ruled ineligible because of a sponsorship dispute, the former captain belied nine weeks without competitive cricket and saved the Caribbean team from complete collapse on a Queen’s Park Oval pitch noted for increasingly variable bounce.

Less than a month away from his 36th birthday, Lara’s innings, which has spanned 353 minutes so far with 20 fours off 236 balls, reinforced his status as arguably the best batsman in the world, especially when the pressure is on.

In compiling his 27th hundred in his 113th Test, the Trinidadian went past the mark he shared with Sir Gary Sobers for the most hundreds by a West Indian in Tests and is now fifth on the overall list, seven behind the record shared by Indians Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar.

He goes into the second day with an overall tally of 10 253 Test runs, pushing ahead of the same Indian pair in the list of top run makers in Tests with only the Australian duo of Steve Waugh and record-holder Allan Border ahead of him.

Yet all the records paled against the context of this latest master class, compiled in the face of an early South African onslaught that would have had Shivnarine Chanderpaul regretting his decision to bat first on a pitch that has seen the home team beaten in six of the last seven Tests on the ground.

Indeed, the early dismissals suggested that the return of players recently released from their personal contracts with Cable and Wireless was a decision in danger of backfiring spectacularly.

Chris Gayle never came to terms with the early pace and bounce extracted by Makhaya Ntini and an ugly attempted pull to a delivery not all that short resulted in a skied catch for wicket-keeper Mark Boucher.

The opener’s departure for six was followed soon after by the demise of another returnee, Ramnaresh Sarwan, in a manner that has become all too familiar for the Guyanese right-hander. Attempting to pull a short ball from Ntini, he lobbed a straightforward catch to Andre Nel coming off the long-leg boundary.

At 13 for two, Lara arrived to a rousing ovation from a disappointing first day crowd that was estimated at 10 000. Unlike the two who preceded him, the local hero lived up to the expectations of his diehard fans, many of whom remain embittered by the decision of the West Indies Board not to also reinstate their idol as captain.

A watchful start was just the quiet prelude to a dazzling exhibition of strokeplay with Wavell Hinds content to play the sheet-anchor role in a 95-run third-wicket partnership.

Driving and slashing imperiously in a wide arc from backward-point to mid-off for a succession of boundaries, Lara was already hinting at great things when Hinds fell 40 minutes after lunch for 32, caught by Graeme Smith at first slip driving at the persevering Ntini.

The South African captain again seemed reluctant to put pressure on new batsmen and Chanderpaul, fresh from a double-century on his home ground in the first Test, capitalised on the absence of any concerted pressure in partnering Lara to another 95-run stand.

With anticipation growing in the heat and humidity of a stifling afternoon, Lara crashed 13 runs in one over off Jacques Kallis to make the hundred almost an inevitability. He duly reached the landmark to rapturous acclaim, pulling Monde Zondeki to deep-midwicket for two.

The champion left-hander was already celebrating his upcoming birthday with upraised arms before touching down for the hundredth run.

Having waited ten years to register his first Test century on home soil – against Australia in 2003 – Lara had again made a forceful statement that he remains a batsman of the highest class despite his obvious failings as a team leader.

The value of his hundred multiplied when South Africa hit back with three wickets in the final session. Chanderpaul, on 35, was lured into a drive by Nicky Boje and the left-arm spinner held the caught-and-bowled chance with glee.

From 203 for three, the West Indies slipped to 225 for six as Donovan Pagon was comprehensively bowled by Ntini – the pacer’s fourth wicket for a duck while Dwayne Bravo, the fourth of the previously ineligible players, never looked comfortable and was bowled off the inside-edge by Nel for five.

Given the vulnerability of the lower-order, the tourists sensed the chance to dismiss their opponents well before the close for a total considerably below 300. But even with Lara tiring, he found a resilient partner in wicket-keeper-batsman Courtney Browne, who has contributed 19 in an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 56. (CMC)

Compliments of the Nation News


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