Lara throws a party

There was fight and a final, thrilling flourish from Brian Lara.

There was mature resistance from Ramnaresh Sarwan.

There was even the fleeting encouragement of a rare delay for rain.

But the West Indies needed something more substantial to avoid defeat by 82 runs in the fourth Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground yesterday.

The outcome was all but inevitable from the moment Carl Hooper won the toss and committed his team to batting last on a pitch the head groundsman had publicly stated was specially prepared for spinners.

When they surrendered a first innings deficit of 107 within an hour of the third day, there was no coming back.

Adding to their triumph in the second Test by 69 runs, South Africa secured the series and the Viv Richards Trophy, contested for the first time between the teams.

They and the Australians of 1995, who regained the Frank Worrell Trophy, are the only two teams to take a series in the Caribbean since 1973 although some others have come close.

The West Indies now have the chance only of consolation in the fifth Test, starting at Sabina Park tomorrow week.

The reality is that they cannot hope to defeat opponents as strong, well-balanced and confident as South Africa when they lose their last six wickets for 15, as they did in the first innings, and drop four catches and miss three run-outs that was the overall count.

The match was all over before tea when Jacques Kallis ended the threat of Lara at 91 and dismissed Dinanath Ramnarine in successive overs.

Lara accelerated at such a rate once the impressive Sarwan and Ridley Jacobs fell quarter-hour before lunch and he was left with the tailenders that he stirred memories of Kensington 1999.

He was 21 off 88 balls with two fours at the interval.

Afterwards, his clean, exhilarating hitting brought him his next 70 off 111 balls with four leg-side sixes, all off the left-arm spinner Nicky Boje, and four fours.

Suddenly a dry, bare, broken pitch that had made batting treacherous was not a factor. But the merriment didn't last.

Pollock claimed the new ball and Kallis used it to surprise Lara with bounce and produce a catch to extra-cover and claim Ramnarine to a low gully catch.

The West Indies were given the unrealistic challenge of scoring 323 to win on the unreliable pitch when Pollock declared South Africa's second innings midway through the fourth day.

They were already four down for 101 when play got going after a delay of 40 minutes because of a morning shower.

On the ground where he amassed his Test record 375 against England seven years ago, Lara carried West Indies hopes of meaningful resistance and he applied himself with due caution as he and the 20- year-old Sarwan occupied the first hour-and-a-quarter adding 53.

They did so mainly by ensuring that the right-handed Sarwan took as much of Boje as possible, keeping Lara away from the turn and bounce out of the bowlers' footmarks.

Sarwan stroked four stylish boundaries with two square-cuts off Boje, a late-cut off Lance Klusener and an on-drive off Pollock.

Once Man-Of-The-Match Pollock had Sarwan caught at the wicket for 26, pushing defensively outside off-stump, and the left-handed Jacobs spooned a slower ball to midoff the third over of his first spell of the day, Lara changed gear.

He made light of Boje's threat from the considerable rough outside his off-stump, pulling him for two leg-side sixes, lofting him for two more and stroking five of his eight fours.

As he dominated, he kept losing partners.

Neil McGarrell was taken at short extra-cover from pad-and-bat and Merv Dillon tamely edged Boje to first slip.

Ramnarine stayed long enough for his Lara-dominated ninth-wicket stand with Lara to be worth 53.

Relentlessly attacking Boje, Lara miscued one of his several pulls to Makhaya Ntini at midwicket but, to the plain fury of the toiling bowler, the simplest of catches escaped clutching fingers and fell to the grass.

It was an unusual South Africa fielding error but, with Lara 82, it was not costly.

The champion left-hander was nine away from his first hundred of the series when he misjudged the bounce from a Kallis short ball and put a simple catch to extra-cover.

He left to a standing ovation, passing Courtney Walsh on his way out for his last Test innings on the ground. A year ago, he remained with Jimmy Adams, then his captain, while 19 runs were garnered to beat Pakistan by one wicket.

The time for heroics this time had long passed and South Africa didn't have long to wait to finalise their triumph.