Bangladesh v West Indies, Super Eights, Bridgetown April 18, 2007

Pride on the line, no more



Brian Lara watches a West Indies practice session from the pavilion at the Kensington Oval © Getty Images
South Africa's demolition job on England killed off any hopes of West Indies getting back-door entry into the semi-finals, and they now go into Thursday's game against Bangladesh with only pride on the line. It will have escaped no one's attention that West Indies are currently level on points with Bangladesh and Ireland, an unacceptable state of affairs in a region that dominated the game for nearly two decades.

For Brian Lara, the tie against Bangladesh will mark his 298th in West Indian colours and the penultimate step on a journey that started on a November day in Karachi more than 16 years ago. It will forever be a source of regret for Lara that for all his individual achievements, West Indies accomplished little at the five World Cups that he was part of. Apart from the semi-final that Shane Warne stole from them at Mohali in 1996, each campaign has been as abysmal as the other.

"The two remaining games are of utmost importance to us," he said on the eve of Thursday's game. "It's important that we do start the second round. We still haven't actually. We want to finish on a high. These next two matches are of no consequence in terms of the World Cup, but they are very important for us, and the guys are fully aware of that."

The West Indian meltdown in the Super Eights, after they topped their first-round group, has been one of the most disappointing aspects of this competition, but Lara wasn't interested in playing the blame game. "This is not the time for condemnation but constructive criticism," he said. "We just did not play good cricket, we were beaten by better teams on the day. We have disappointed ourselves and our fans."

He accepted, however, that the prime reason for the debacle was the failure of the marquee players to deliver when it mattered most. "A lot of our seniors, including myself, have not performed like seniors in other prominent teams have done," he said. "The contributions from the seniors and the experienced players in the reason why teams like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka are in the semi-finals."

Several former players were scathing in their assessment of the team's performances against the tournament's best sides, with Colin Croft in particular pinpointing the lack of intensity at training sessions. According to Lara, such things were par for the course when things were going wrong. "There's no lethargy in the team and the boys are very upbeat," he said. "The result yesterday cast us out of the competition. The guys tried their best and have been under a lot of scrutiny lately. Unfortunately, that goes with the fact that we are not playing well.

"Bennett King and the support staff have been working really hard, but our trainer left last December, and we not had a trainer since. That is no fault of the players. The players are trying their best, but it is difficult at this time without a professional trainer."

With the pressure off, West Indies will hope to express themselves as best they can in front of the disappointed home support. As for Bangladesh, they have already embarrassed India and South Africa, but Habibul Bashar, the captain, brushed off suggestions that West Indies would be an easier mark.

"I don't think so," he said. "They're still a good team. For us, it doesn't matter who we play. It's how we play on that particular day. We beat India and South Africa, but also lost other games quite easily."

That inconsistency ruined any chance of a semi-final place, and the 74-run loss to rank outsiders Ireland was hugely disappointing for a team looking to kick on after the famous victory against South Africa. "There's been a big contrast in our performances," admitted Bashar. "Some days we're one of the best fielding sides. Other days, we're ordinary. It's very important that we learn to be consistent in all three departments of the game."

Bangladesh have only come close to beaten West Indies once in 12 attempts, at St Vincent three years ago, but such statistics didn't really worry Bashar. "Before we played South Africa [in Guyana], we had never beaten them before," he said. "Winning any game at the World Cup is very important for Bangladesh. We don't want to be No.8 in the Super Eights."

What is a worry is his form, or lack of it. "As captain, you always want to do something, to set an example for other players," he said. "It's important for me and my side that I score some runs."

In many ways he might do well to learn from his younger team-mates, who've shown oodles of confidence - perhaps too much at times - and no fear when confronted by illustrious opponents. "Bangladesh are really competitive in the Under-19s, and the boys think they can win," said Bashar, when asked about the impact of the youth brigade. "They have come to this level with that frame of mind."

It makes for a fascinating contest, a dead rubber with a fair bit at stake. "We have been disappointing," said Lara. "For Bangladesh, every game against the Test-playing nations is of utmost importance and we are aware of that. We don't want to be one of their victims. We want to come out and play our best cricket. Everyone wants to finish on a high, and we want to win back the support of the fans."

You sense that it will take more than one win to do that.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo

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