Lara reaffirms his greatness
West Indies 595 for 5 (Lara 313*, Sarwan 90) v England
Brian Lara completely and utterly dominated the second day of the final Test in Antigua. He eased to his second-highest Test score of 313 not out, and became only the second player to score two triple-centuries, as the batsmen racked up the runs against a tired and toothless England attack. West Indies had cruised to 595 for 5 at the close with Lara 68 runs away from the world-record individual score. And at this point, you wouldn't bet against him reclaiming his title from Matthew Hayden.
Resuming on 86 not out, Lara piled on the runs - and the agony - for England. He slowly wore the bowlers down, adding 232 with Ramnaresh Sarwan at the start, and then 126 with the ever-dependable Ridley Jacobs towards the close. Now this England team have some idea of what it was like here 10 years ago when Lara romped to his then record 375. Back then there were all sorts of celebrations, and they'll have to start thinking of some more for tomorrow if Lara reclaims batting's promised land.
It was a mammoth effort from Lara. Not just time-wise - over 10 hours in all -, but just when the Caribbean needed something special from him to restore their faith. He was back to his best, scoring over half his side's runs. His timing and placement was almost perfect, and the majority of his 23 fours and three sixes were worth every penny to watch - even for the England fans who paid the levy.
But it wasn't all about power, his running between the wickets was another feature, as was his instinctive feet movement. He scored allround the wicket to every part of - and three times out of - the ground. He was a man on a mission; determined, decisive and destined to make a huge score.
It was another grinding day for England's bowlers, who again struggled to make an impression on the flat pitch, which continued to hold no demons. Lara, in particular, helped himself to anything off line and he set the tone of the day from the very first ball, spanking Matthew Hoggard through the covers. The shots kept on coming, as he elegantly and effortlessly glided the ball between the fielders. It was as if he could pick the gaps at will and off every delivery.
Lara raced to his hundred within 20 minutes of the start, and he didn't hang about all day, passing his 150 in no time. He took a liking to Gareth Batty in particular, dancing down the track and cracking him through the offside for the shot of the morning. And that was just the start. As he strode into the 190s, he brought up his double in style. He slammed Batty's opening ball of his afternoon spell for the first six of his innings, straight down the ground and way over the stand into the carpark. The next delivery was swept for four to take him to 199, and then the single did the job. He jumped for joy and punched the air as if he was letting out all that frustration and pressure of the past month. And you got the feeling there was still plenty to come.
Indeed, the milestones kept on coming. After a bad patch by his standards, playing and missing a few times, he regained his control and composure to notch up his 250. Again it was Batty on the receiving end. Lara belted him down the ground for four, and next ball slapped him through the covers for the 250. This time, though, there were no celebrations. You could tell he wanted more - much more.
Next all eyes were on the 300, and after an edgy period in what was a tetchy 290s, he nudged Batty into the offside to start the party - again. The whole of St John's were on their feet, cheering a living legend of the game, and Lara was punching the air for their third time in the day. Just for good measure, he launched Michael Vaughan out the ground in the final over of the day.
The only real close call he had was when he was nearly run out on 127 from a Hoggard direct hit. And that was the only way England were going to get him out. They did manage three wickets today, though, which gave them some relief from their lashings of Lara.
Sarwan was happy to play second fiddle early on. He took the opportunity to play himself back into some sort of form on the flat track and dead ball. He notched up his half-century with a cracking cover-drive off Hoggard, and later clipped Batty over midwicket for four, and over long-on for six the next ball. But just when he had a fifth Test century for the taking, Stephen Harmison provided some relief for England with the new ball. Sarwan jabbed at a rising ball outside off and edged it to Marcus Trescothick at first slip for 90 (330 for 3).
The wicket slowed things down, as Ricardo Powell took time to settle himself in what is only his second Test. He had a touch of fortune early on with some streaky shots, but he ran out of luck when he tried to pull a short ball from Harmison well outside offstump, but skied it to Nasser Hussain at third man for 23 (380 for 4).Lara wasn't impressed, but he found a more reliable ally in Ryan Hinds, who played sensibly for his 36. There was something for Batty to smile about, though. He picked up his second caught-and-bowled of the innings when Hinds miscued an ondrive and chipped the ball back (469 for 5).
Jacobs stuck around for a handy 47 not out, and rubbed salt into the bowler's wounds with a few of his bruising blows. There was no chance of the short ball bothering him on this pitch, whose docile nature Vaughan must have been cursing all day - and a heck of a long day at that. He had to endure 105 overs of torture, using seven bowlers in all, including himself and Trescothick. He wasn't helped by the fact that Hoggard missed the last two sessions feeling unwell. Again, England didn't bowl that badly, but they just came up against someone too good. It was Lara's day, but tomorrow could be his best.