West Indies v Sri Lanka, Super Eights, Guyana April 1, 2007

In a crisis Lara clings to outside chance

Brian Lara: "As I was coming off, one of the fans said to me, 'you got to hold your head up high'" © AFP

"I only hear you words, but I don't see no works," the great Rasta Peter Tosh once complained in a song, and it is the sentiment ringing about supporters in the Caribbean. As the tournament that began with such hope teetered ever so precariously on the point of no return, not even the spirited words of Brian Lara - an eternal optimist he called himself - will provide much cause for belief.

Tired, formless, with issues on the field and off it, it was a third dismal day for West Indies in less than a week. The Caribbean dream now hinges on a set of permutations that will challenge even Lara's outlook. For a start, they will have to win their three remaining matches, and on current form the first of those, against South Africa next week, already looks a bridge too far.

"I suppose we'll be watching some cricket games now hoping that certain teams win or defeat another country," Lara said. "We've got our last game of this round on the 21st and we might be in a match against England where we're fighting for the last spot. There is a permutation that allows that."

It ought not to have been the situation for West Indies, one of the four teams that carried through two points into the second round. If they looked a flat side, it was, Lara said, because they physically were. "We played four games on sandy outfields in 10 days," he said. "We played on Friday the 23rd, today is the 1st. Australia took two days, New Zealand was the next day, and here we are on Sunday in Guyana. It's tough. And I mean if you look at someone like Daren Powell you can see that his pace dropped over a period of time."

Yet the tone was already set at Antigua where their dullness in their first two games of the Super Eights was stark. And after a fighting beginning today, it was more of the same.

From the 18th over, when Sanath Jayasuriya took 27 runs from nine balls, everything about West Indies was sloppy. Nobody except the pacemen and Ramnaresh Sarwan at the death bowled with much control. Chris Gayle began with long hops and bowled no-balls at the end. The medium-pace of Dwayne Smith, Dwayne Bravo and Ian Bradshaw was loose and dispatched.

The fielding was terrible. Bradshaw failed to sprint to and dive for a catch that could have been critical, Marlon Samuels and Jerome Taylor contrived to convert what should have been a tight two into a four. Even the tigers meowed. Bravo let a ball roll through his legs. Smith spilled the simplest of outfield catches, thereby black-spotting the one facet of his game for which he could claim to have been performing to international standards. From 50 for 2 in 15 overs Sri Lanka reached 303.

"We're in a crisis situation," Lara said, "and that's a situation we got to dig ourselves out of." "This is a lot of pressure cricket. The World Cup is not a normal one-day series.

"We've done a lot of work psychologically with the guys in the meetings and tried to get them up to it. There are disappointed faces in the dressing room. It is for the management and me as captain to lift the spirits and show them that there is some light at the end of the tunnel."

Hope had not still deserted the arena when Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were constructing a strange partnership that had pushed the required rate past ten by the 30th over. Three men held up a banner: "Ain't ova till da fat lady sing."

Chanderpaul then began lifting sixes over the leg side but the pacing of this chase was far too disorganised. When Lasith Malinga took him out with a special, the men with the banner made a little tweak: 'Da fat lady sing.'

"As I was coming off," Lara said, "one of the fans said to me, 'you got to hold your head up high'. And that's the thing we still need as a team, for the fans to support us. We are going to come out and try our best. What we can tell them is to come out to Grenada and Barbados and support us. It's still a World Cup, there's still an outside chance.

"I'm not going to dive into 45 minutes ago and five days. I want to concentrate on what we have ahead. Yes, I am an eternal optimist and I still think we can make it. When I watch England play and South Africa play, I'm going to support a certain team. We need a lot of good cricket and a lot of luck. It still boils down to us beating South Africa, Bangladesh and England to give us any glimmer of hope and that is a job only we can do. No permutation can help if we don't do that job."

If optimism must indeed be drawn out of this match it should be extended to the organisers. Perhaps vested interest in neutral matches might now bring in more locals to the grounds.

Rahul Bhattacharya is contributing editor of Cricinfo Magazine and author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04