Saving Lara's captaincy
After West Indies' remarkable victory in Champions Trophy final at The Oval - their first in the finals of an international tournament for 25 years - the English and West Indian press was full of praise for Brian Lara's underdogs. Apart from the heroics of Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw, there was also mention of Lara's role - as a motivator, and in the field - and of how this performance may well have cemented, for the time being at least, his role as captain after a disappointing summer's Test cricket.
"How did England lose it?" asked Scyld Berry in the Sunday Telegraph. He blamed their "unintelligent batting" - bar Marcus Trescothick - for a start. "Then while England's fielding never wilted," Berry continued, "Their bowling was too dependent on Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff."
Browne and Bradshaw "were buoyed by their avowed determination to do something for the people of the Caribbean, especially Grenada, who have suffered in hurricanes. In any event they batted calmly and, with the help of too many extras, whittled the target down to 26 from the last six overs, and 17 off three." And Berry concluded: "Whatever the quality of this tournament overall, it could not have had a more exciting finish."
In The Observer, Vic Marks also lamented England's defeat: "They will never have a better chance of winning a one-day trophy of international significance".
He went on: "Bradshaw, the Man of the Match, and Browne were the heroes, but this result may well help to transform West Indian cricket. It certainly strengthens Lara's hold on the captaincy. They could hardly ditch him now. Indeed Lara was inspirational. Maybe the chance to restore West Indies' pride and to reassert his right to the captaincy spurred him on; maybe it was the decision of the team to dedicate this game to the victims of the Caribbean hurricanes. Maybe it was the bang on the head from Shoaib. For whatever reason, Lara was a man transformed."
Marks's colleague, Will Buckley, carried on the theme of transformation: "A wonderful summer of sport finally came to an end in the gloaming in front of the gasometers at The Oval in south London last night. Despite the backdrop, though, there was no need to be gloomy. Only a churl would begrudge Brian Lara a rare taste of team success. Only a dullard would not take pleasure from an ending, at 6.36pm, so surprising as to defy all odds. If the heroics of tailenders Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw can inspire a resurgence in West Indian cricket it will be good for the game. And what a game it proved to be for a full house yesterday.
"Lara has struggled so long and so hard that it was impossible not to delight in his belated and unlikely success. A match-winning century would have been a final feather in a remarkable cap. But winning a trophy meant so much more."
The Independent on Sunday's Stephen Fay described the "profound implications" the victory would have on Lara's career, "never mind West Indies cricket. After the fourth Test, also at The Oval, four weeks ago, Lara was widely assumed to be captaining the Test team for the last time. Not any more. By leading a promising young team to the final of this Trophy by Twilight, Lara had probably delayed his own demise. Although he declined to discuss his own future after the game, he is now assured of the continued leadership of the West Indies team.
"He said afterwards that, if this proves to be his last appearance in England, it was a phenomenal way to end his career here. So it was, and so it is likely to be. But no longer definitely. He will be in his late thirties when West Indies visit England again, and it must be improbable that he will still be around. But he said the win augurs well for the future. Perhaps it augurs well for his future too."
Elsewhere in the IoS Stephen Brenkley agreed: "The triumph - and in such circumstances - was precisely what Caribbean cricket needed, can hardly have dared hope for and never have expected. For long enough their players have been pushed from pillar to post in most parts of the world. But there has always been more than a suspicion that Brian Lara's side possess richly talented cricketers. West Indies were worthy victors."
Praise for Lara and his boys was widespread in the West Indian media too, although in the Trinidad Guardian, Everard Gordon warned that it was too soon to be heralding a new era just yet. "The team was under pressure for underperformance and is suffering a string of defeats unmatched at any period in the history of West Indies cricket," he said. "Believing that the sterling performance in this tournament heralds the return to the glorious days of West Indies domination is a danger to be avoided. However, there should be unstinting praise for the effort."
But Gordon admitted that while a full West Indian revival is still a long way off, the signs are at least pointing in the right direction. "It was the reply of a group of beleaguered young men to the doubters and to the many who have criticised them mercilessly, and sometimes unjustly, for their real and supposed shortcomings. They batted with intelligent determination to take the West Indies back to winning eventually with style. This is just the platform. On it the team must build the discipline, commitment and determination, the unity that must take them on the long journey to the top."