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How sweet it is

It hasn't been often of late that an opposing captain has acknowledged his team was beaten batting, bowling and fielding by the West Indies.

They was how Zimbabwe's Grant Flower put it after the Lara-less West Indies had overcome their shocking build-up form and the sudden absence of their unpredictable superstar to comfortably win the first match in the triangular Coca-Cola Cup on a day of bright, cloudless sunshine here yesterday.

Announcing his withdrawal from the tour on Friday, Lara charged the young batsmen to use the chance to establish themselves. They took him at his word.

Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga overcame some anxious early moments to post an opening stand of 113 in the first half of the innings that was the platform for an eventual total of 266 off the set 50 overs.

Wavell Hinds, who would not have played at all had Lara not pulled out, provided the necessary momentum with urgent running between the wickets and several thumping strokes in 37 from 44 balls at No.3.

When the two remaining stalwarts of the batting came together, the West Indies were already 180 for three with 18-and-a-half overs left. Captain Carl Hooper and especially Shivnarine Chanderpaul applied the finishing touches with a partnership of 62 from nine overs.

Chanderpaul's 51 from 46 balls, with a six and three fours and several improvised strokes, was just the finale required, leaving the home team a demanding target.

They never had it in sight.

They lost opener Dion Ebrahim and Stuart Carlisle by the 12th over for 44 to two stunning catches and could make little headway against Cameron Cuffy who smothered them with another opening burst of ten impeccable overs that cost 20.

He later added a smart run-out from the outfield and earned the Man of the Match award, as he had done against South Africa in front of his home crowd at Arnos Vale, St Vincent, last month Wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs flew high to his right to snare a spectacular right-handed take to remove Ebrahim off Reon King's bouncing outswinger.

Hooper matched it six overs later with a tumbling, two-handed catch at short extra-cover from the dangerous Stuart Carlisle off Merv Dillon.

When Andy Blignaut, a belligerent left-hander promoted in an effort to lift the flagging scoring rate, was run out by Cuffy's swooping, right-handed pickup and laser-point return to Jacobs for 25 from 26 balls, the result was all but decided.

Any victory these days is welcome for the West Indies and this was even more so in view of Lara's departure last night and the heavy loss to the aging Country Districts team on Wednesday.

As satisfying as it was, it needs to be put into proper perspective.

The loss of Andy Flower, after an incredible, unbroken sequence of 72 Tests and 172 One-Day Internationals, weakened Zimbabwe every bit as much as Lara's did the West Indies. To compound matters, Heath Streak, who had led them since last September, gave up the captaincy just before play, reportedly over the selection of the XI in which he had no say.

Grant Flower, Andy's brother, found himself thrust into the position but admitted afterwards there were problems within the team. His first act as skipper was to win the toss and bowl. He would have expected at least an early wicket or three for his decision but had to wait until the 25th over for his first.

Gayle, the tall, 21-year-old left-hander, and right-handed Ganga, 22, got through a testing period against the swing of Streak and Andy Blignaut to raise the highest West Indies opening stand since Sherwin Campbell and Ridley Jacobs put on 111 against New Zealand in Auckland in January, 2000.

Gayle, inclined to the backfoot as always, escaped a chance to second slip off Blignaut when 14 but still thumped seven boundaries, mostly through the off-side, in 53 off 76 balls before he chipped the legspinner Brian Murphy to long-on.

Ganga was even less secure than Gayle early on but became increasingly confident. He had 66 to his name, from 98 balls with five fours, when he inexplicably charged down the pitch at Murphy and was swiftly stumped by Tatenda Taibu, Andy Flower's diminutive, 18-year-old replacement who looks a natural.

By then, Hinds had helped him add 58 from 10 overs and had shaken up the Zimbabweans with his rapid running between the wickets.

It eventually cost Hinds his hand.