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CARIBBEAN - cricket
Lara, the comeback kid
Monday 12, April-2004
The sheer statistical weight of his second triple hundred speaks for itself, as did his first, the unforgettable 375 at the same Antigua Recreation Ground ten years ago that was then Test cricket’s record score.
He has scored over half the mountainous total and now links his name with the greatest among all batsmen, the legendary Australian Don Bradman, as the only two to pass 300 twice in Tests.
When he resumes this morning, he is within a couple of hours of reclaiming his record, snatched from him by the Australian left-handed opener Matthew Hayden’s 381 against Zimbabwe in Perth last October.
What these bland facts and figures cannot reveal is the immense pressure that had to be borne to fashion them.
When he walked to the middle of the Antigua Recreation Ground at the early fall of the first wicket on Saturday morning, Lara’s own fortunes, and those of West Indies cricket, were at a lower ebb than they have ever been.
England, an old enemy for reasons beyond cricket alone, had heaped humiliation on Lara and his team with crushing victories in the first three Tests.
They had routed them for 47 in the first Test, a tiny tots total, the lowest they had ever gone in 76 years of Test cricket. They had blown them away for 94 in the third at Kensington Oval, once their impenetrable fortress.
England were on the verge of the unthinkable, the first clean sweep of a series in the Caribbean by any visiting team – and hordes of their fans had travelled across the Atlantic and shelled out plenty of money to enjoy the experience that would compensate for decades of similar defeat in reverse.
As for his captaincy, Lara’s tactics, always unconventional, were now widely seen as simply illogical. As his second tenure as captain was proving even more disastrous than his first, there were calls, from the great and the humble, for his replacement.
He himself, the team’s only batsman fit to be ranked among the best of the day, had been dismissed cheaply in the six previous innings.
He had jumped around uncertainly at the crease in a vain effort to counter England’s fast, bouncing bowling, on fast, bouncing pitches.
In the second innings, at his home ground, the Queen’s Park Oval, hehad slipped himself down to as low asNo. 6, describing it as a “tactical” decision but transmitting to England a leader abrogating his responsibility.
It was an error he recognised, for he was back at No.3 in the following Test, his natural place, but one he had not filled for three years.
The burden he carried into the match was, therefore, greater than any West Indies captain could ever have known – except he himself.
As he acknowleged, he was once more drinking in the last chance saloon.
“The next five days are very important in terms of my future as captain,” he said prior to the match. “No captain, no team, wants to go down for the first time in their history as losing all their Test matches at home.”
But he had travelled the same rocky path before and he k the way out.
In the second season of his first spell as captain, his leadership was roundly and publicly criticised by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) after the ill-starred 1998-99 tour of South Africa where all five Tests and six of the One-Day Internationals were lost.
The failure was compounded by Lara’s failure against the pace of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock that left him without a hundred in either form of the game, a modest average in the mid-30s in the Tests.
The board accentuated its censure by reing Lara’s captaincy for only two Tests of the ensuing home series against Australia. He was, effectively, on probation and when a team even weaker in batting than it is now collapsed to 51 all out to lose the first Test by a mile, his position hung on a thin thread.
The burden was as intense at the end of the opening day of the second Test in Kingston as it was at the ARG on Saturday. The West Indies were 34 for four, replying to Australia’s 256, and yet another collapse to defeat seemed inevitable.
What followed was the stuff of dreams. In spite of – or, more probably, because of - his own and his team’s crisis, Lara amassed 213 and followed with an unbeaten 153 in the second innings of the next Test, still arguably his greatest innings, that sent the West Indies into an implausible 2-1 lead in the series.
He reeled off a third hundred in the last but it was not enough to prevent Steve Waugh’s desperate team claiming victory that earned them a share of the spoils.
The series was already gone this time but as much was at stake, perhaps even more.
His latest act of revival, like the first, cannot mask the serious problems that confront West Indies cricket or the reasons why his team should be relying on him to save them from the indignity of a clean sweep.
But at least it has rekindled the confidence and assuaged the anguish of a depressed people.
Compliments of the Nation
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