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The Verdict by Peter English in Hobart
November 17, 2005
Trinidadian worries over Brian Lara's form might be masked by their euphoria at qualifying for the World Cup football finals for the first time, but his problems are severe for West Indies. Team management has refused to fret over his low-key performances through the Super Series and the first-Test loss. It's time to start shaking as his spluttering batting, which has not reached fifty in any form over the past two months, has become addictive for team-mates who today tumbled for 149.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul believed the first Test loss was as bad as things could get. After winning the toss this effort was surely worse as the tourists swung from dismissal to disappointment on a Bellerive Oval surface prepared for batsmen. Lara deserved to be ecstatic the morning after his countrymen overcame Bahrain to seal a spot at Germany 2006, but he was also subdued and sleepy looking, matching his demeanour through his spring tour of Australia.
West Indies were desperate for their best batsman to rouse himself in an effort to counter the massive imbalance in this three-Test series that has showed no sign of shifting. His arrival at No.4 was brought forward by Chris Gayle's early departure when feeling sick and he added to the disruption when the 12th man raced in after two balls with a new pair of shoes.
The quick change upset Ricky Ponting, who hurried to the batsmen with vocal complaints, but the footwear could not steady Lara's movements and he was unable to shed the tentativeness against Brett Lee, who forced him into the awkward flinches and weaves that often afflict batsmen in later life. Waiting nine balls to score, Lara spent 14 deliveries on 1, was on 6 at lunch after more than an hour and the nearest he showed to fluency were the two balls after the break when he pulled a four off Shane Warne and skipped down the pitch to flick him through midwicket.
Lara's 36-year-old spark was quickly extinguished when Lee fired a yorker on to his back foot and the loud appeal was granted by Aleem Dar. Lee had moved around the wicket and delivered the ball from wide of the crease, with Hawkeye suggesting it was headed towards leg stump when it thudded into Lara's boot. The decision was tight, but it was a much closer call than his controversial lbw dismissal at Brisbane to the same bowler.
While Lara's magic has disappeared as he edges towards Allan Border's world record, Gayle showed some strength and purpose on returning to post the innings' only half-century. Unwell and dizzy at the crease in the morning, he went off at the first drinks break for medical treatment and recovered to take Lara's place. Warne was attacked by Gayle, who sparkled seven fours and two sixes in his 56 before suffering an lbw decision significantly worse than Lara's when Glenn McGrath's slower ball was slipping past leg stump.
Both senior batsmen require greater returns and more use of bats instead of pads if they are to resuscitate an ailing side. Most worryingly, the absence of runs from Lara exposes the lack of discipline in the side's batting order, which lost Devon Smith, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels to weak shots and dropped wickets in the first two overs after lunch and tea.
Australia's bowlers know they can wait for chances as long as they deliver something resembling a tight line and they collected victims as easily as the small yachts on the neighbouring Derwent River picked up the gentle breeze. McGrath occasionally moved the ball teasingly away and was cruelly economical - his first 11 overs went for as many runs and he finished with 4 for 31 - while Lee and Stuart MacGill, who out-bowled Warne as he fought a back problem, provided the back-up destruction.
Switching talk from the World Cup football was always going to be difficult after last night's qualifiers, so West Indies' batting generosity helped Australia prolong the sporting celebrations created by the country's first finals qualification since 1974 with the defeat of Uruguay on penalties. Further punishment on this tour is promised for West Indies unless they can tighten their strokeplay and find a quick remedy for Lara's damaging underachievement.
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