'South Africa will start as favourites' - Lara
Brian Lara suggested that he would continue to bat low down the order if the situation demanded it, when he spoke to the media in a pre-match press conference ahead of their crunch semi-final against South Africa. "Things have worked well for us in the three games we played. First we set a target that Australia couldn't get. Then in the last game we got 272 which people might say was 15-20 runs too few," he said. "We had two centurions in that game and so we're quite happy with the way the guys are expressing themselves irrespective of the batting order. We don't know what's the settled order, we've been unorthodox in this tournament and I can never say we're going to have a fixed order."
Lara's back continues to improve, and although it has not forced him out of a game in the tournament yet, he admitted he was not totally fit. "I'm a lot better. I've had a couple of days rest," he said. "I didn't bat too long in the last two games. I feel ok. I felt ok after those games. I'm not 100% but getting over those games has given me the confidence to go on."
Lara looked back at the previous edition of the Champions Trophy, which his team won, and underscored its significance in West Indies' development as a team. "Winning that tournament after the losses against England in the Tests home and away seven-nil," he said. "The guys really wanted to win. We knew every day that we could be on a flight home the next day and were desperate for a win. Beating England in the final did us a lot of good. Unfortunately we didn't kick on from there."
Like Graeme Smith had done earlier in the day, Lara sought to underplay the bad blood between the two sides which has manifested itself in ugly on-field confrontations. "I just want to surround myself with the fact that we're playing good cricket, and executing the tasks we need to really well," he said. "We have dissected the South African cricket team and we know exactly what we want to do against them. In terms of bad blood and all that sort of fickle stuff I think it is unnecessary. We just need to take one game at a time."
Smith had talked in some detail about the cracks and fissures in the pitch, and the fact that his fast bowlers might get something from this, but Lara's take was a bit different. "It's a good pitch if you get set. Teams playing here have got good starts and then folded later on," he said. "We have to take that into consideration. It's hard to nail down any particular preference about the pitch, the surface or the surroundings. I still feel the team that plays better on the day is going to win, whoever bats first or bowls first is of little relevance."
The West Indies come into this game knowing they emerged from a group which was thought to be the tougher of the two, comprising teams like Australia. But Lara said there wasn't anything to take from the fact that they had beaten the World Champions earlier in the tournament. "That is dead and buried now. What's happened has happened and we have a different tournament ahead of us," he said. "We have two matches left and we just have to take on the opposition in front of us. It's good to have been in a tough group, and I know that Australia and India were the favourites to come out of it. But we were quietly confident of our ability to qualify."
In the last two times these teams have faced each other in big tournaments - the World Cup and the Champions Trophy - West Indies have come out on top. But Lara did not feel this gave them an advantage. "There's no edge. I just feel that we're playing good cricket. Beating South Africa in the opening match of the World Cup was a big game for us," he said. "Then we were underdogs, in the Champions Trophy in 2004 we were underdogs, and here as well. Tomorrow, South Africa being a higher ranked team will start as favourites. But we know our game so much better now than at any other time of the year and even before."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo