England v West Indies, Super Eights, Barbados April 20, 2007

Lara's last song to be played at full house



Brian Lara has his final chance to create some batting magic against England © AFP

Suddenly, a match condemned to be a humdrum nothingness has burst alive. No longer do we have to scrounge for clichés like playing for pride to give our pieces some manufactured meaning. On Saturday, irrespective of the outcome, it will be Brian Lara's match. And the Kensington Oval will see the biggest carnival of this World Cup so far.

You can feel the buzz around Barbados already. This was always going to be a well-attended match. Barbados is a haven for British tourists in normal times and despite the limp showing of their team, lots of English fans are still hanging around. But expect the Barmy Army to be drowned in a cacophony of drums and conches.

Kensington Oval has been lucky in the sense that organisers had awoken to their folly and relaxed the security norms by the time the Super Eights matches started here. A lively band has been playing on all days, but Saturday will be a day like no other. Not since Viv Richards have the Caribbean islands had a player so dazzling and magnetic and locals are snapping up the available tickets to watch their hero in West Indian colours for the final time. Ground authorities expect the first full house of the tournament.

This is not a farewell Lara's scriptwriter would have penned. He will end up with 299 one-day caps and finish with a battle of the basement. Yet, it is symbolic of the times he has spent with the West Indian team. It has been an era of unfulfillment. Lara had prolonged his one-day career for a last shot at glory. An appearance in the final at home would have been fitting. But when it could not happen he knew his time was up. And he has left on his own accord. There was the danger of him being pushed.

He has presided over a shambolic World Cup campaign, as has his counterpart, the likeable Michael Vaughan. Their stories have been similar. They have avoided the ignominy of losing to one of the less-fancied teams, but have been soundly beaten by other sides in the Super Eights. England have not defeated a single major outfit and neither have West Indies since knocking over Pakistan in the tournament opener. This will be an opportunity to salvage some crumbs.

It will also be an occasion to score some sparring points before West Indies travel to England next month. They have many questions before them and a few small battles can be fought and won. Andrew Flintoff will look to size up Ramnaresh Sarwan, who is certain to be named captain, the West Indian quicks will look to take care of Vaughan, who has endured a horrendous one-day run. Kevin Pietersen will look to assert himself, and Chris Gayle will have one last shot to redeem his wretched World Cup.

England have also said they want to win this one for Duncan Fletcher, their departing coach. It would be an injustice to remember Fletcher for his last year. A quiet and strong man, Fletcher built a structure and system that rescued English cricket and guided the team to the ultimate prize of the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps he should have gone then, but he deserves a fitting farewell. The least his team can do is put up an attacking performance.

But above all else, there will be Lara. The weaver of a thousand dreams, the wielder of the magic wand, the maker of giant innings, the breaker of records, the utterly compelling and the utterly gorgeous. It will be his last song. Little else will matter.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine

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