Lara anticipates Caribbean cricket turning a corner
One hundred and forty-nine runs: it is what Mohammad Yousuf needs to break Sir Viv Richards's thirty-year old record for the most Test runs in a calendar year. And it is precisely what the West Indies will be trying to stop him from achieving during the third Test at Karachi.
Brian Lara told reporters at the National Stadium he was aware of the record and would prefer it to stay in his countryman's hands. "Mohammad Yousuf is of course challenging the record, but we would like Viv Richards to continue holding the most runs in a calendar year. So we'll be coming really hard at him for that."
It hasn't yet worked, as 439 runs and a lowest score of 56 from three innings for Yousuf suggests, though four dropped catches through the series hasn't helped. But Lara pointed out that Yousuf wasn't the only threat. "He's been batting very well but you need a very good plan for each and every single batsman. You have the likes of Imran Farhat who scored two half centuries in the last game and he's a very good player as well. Inzamam is due for a score in the series so we are not going to take anyone lightly. We'll be doing our homework and ensure that we come out and nullify the impact they have."
Though West Indies have often slipped in the past immediately following encouraging performances, Lara insisted the Multan Test might have belatedly signalled a change. "We are working very hard as a team. You know we talk about transition all the time but I think transition is something that is not tangible. You have to actually go away and perform and do it consistently and then you see yourself actually turn the corner.
"I feel that the Test in Multan is maybe one of the better Tests I've played in, in a long, long time away from home. We didn't get the final result but playing against one of the main nations in world cricket and having them under pressure for 14 out of 15 sessions was definitely something. Being 502 for 4 at one stage in Pakistan is a performance we haven't see for quite some time. Let's see if we can put not just five days but ten days of good cricket together now."
The final XI, he added, would be decided upon inspection of the surface but repeated that only the combination most likely to win the Test would be picked. "We are going to play our best combination and if we play 15 good sessions of cricket then the chances of a result improve." A return for Ramnaresh Sarwan appears unlikely given the side's performance in Multan, but Lara was keen to insist, again, that he remains in the picture.
"Sarwan will be considered like all players in the squad. I repeat Sarwan remains the brightest of talents in the West Indies cricket over the last 15 years. He is looking forward to the chances if given and I can see he is eager to get out in the middle," Lara said.
Rare is the press conference in Pakistan where questions about sub-standard pitches aren't asked. One reporter asked Lara whether he had any recommendations for the PCB in order to help them produce better pitches. Lara sidestepped diplomatically, before pointing out: "Someone rightly said that Pakistan won the first Test and West Indies should have won the second Test if they had taken their catches."
His counterpart, Inzamam-ul-Haq also played down fears that he was influencing the production of flat wickets in Pakistan to aid his batsmen. Visibly incensed by a query, Inzamam retorted, "Over the last three years, most Tests in Pakistan have ended with a result. Even in Multan, had catches not been dropped there might have been a result. Pitches produce results here and it's not true that I ask curators to make flat pitches."
In any case, he expects Karachi's pitch to be livelier. "I expect the wicket to offer help to pace bowlers. West Indies have a very good pace attack and they can get support here but our bowlers have also done well. Hopefully there will be a result."
Karachi will be Lara's last Test in Pakistan and though he is keen to do well, a result for his side, he said, would be immensely more important. "That question has been asked of me around the world recently. It will be my last Test in Pakistan and on a personal note, yes I would like to do something really special. But, if after six years, we can beat a major Test nation away from home and leave a great memory for West Indies like that, that will be my number one aim."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo