August 6, 2000

Magnificent exhibition of batting by Lara

Cornhill Insurance

It has been said that of the many facets presented by the game of cricket, batting is the one most distinctly enjoyable and instinctively delightful. This would undoubtedly apply when one witnesses the work of Brian Lara at the crease.

His innings at Old Trafford today will certainly be on the list of great innings seen in Test cricket and it came at a time when West Indies, despite the excellent stand for the first two wickets, had not got themselves out of the mire. The pressure was very much on, the large first innings deficit of 146 had not quite been wiped off, they were still a run behind when Lara came to the wicket.

He lost Adrian Griffith soon but the tall opening batsman had played his role in giving a solid start. He had batted for well over four hours for his half-century. Jimmy Adams joined Lara and the situation now called for determined batting, the feature of which had to be solid application while ensuring that the scoreboard kept ticking over fairly rapidly. And for this the tourists had, arguably, the two best men in cricket, at the crease.

Realising the enormity of the task that lay ahead and he responsibility he carried as the side's premier batsman, Lara was a little restrained, by his standard, at the start of his innings. He took 46 balls to score 30 - which would be regarded as a fairly brisk rate of scoring for most batsmen - and then, having settled, scored the next 70 runs at the rate of a run a ball.

More than half his runs in his fourteenth Test century and the sixth against England, had come from boundaries and one enormous straight six off Robert Croft landed around the top row of the stand. He had paced his innings most sensibly, reaching fifty from the first ball after lunch and then began to give as beautiful a display of wonderful strokes as one is likely to see.

He is so quick to pick the line of the ball that he gets into position and times his shots to perfection. He drove elegantly and he cut and pulled viciously anything that dropped short. The new ball that England took after lunch, made no impression. Darren Gough bowled five overs from it and conceded 24 and Andy Caddick was dispatched for 15 in two overs. It was on this same ground, five years ago, on the last tour when Lara had again tormented the England bowlers with innings of 87 and 145.

While Adams kept his end up with solid defence today, giving the ideal support to his batting-genius partner, Lara just kept the entertainment going with his demonstration of the art of batting. It was the perfect lesson for the batsmen of West Indies Under-15 team which are presently in England for their World Cup and were fortunate enough to be at Old Trafford to see the master at work.

Adams' contribution cannot be under estimated, he was the perfect foil in their 138-run partnership, of which Lara had 99. With Lara in such marvellous form, it was difficult to see how England could dismiss him. It could only be in some unusual way and that is precisely how he finally went. As non-striker, he had charged nearly half-way down the pitch and could not get back as the direct hit came to the stumps. What a tremendous relief that must have been for England.

Adams' half-century came from a marathon innings lasting nearly five hours. Both batsmen had done a magnificent job for West Indies who now go into the final day on a lead of 235 with four wickets remaining.