Lara likely to bat higher in the order
With pitches and conditions varying from venue to venue adaptation has been the key to success, and West Indies have done that so far
'The guys ... want to prove themselves as worthy contenders of retaining the trophy' - Brian Lara
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When Brian Lara dropped down the order in the tournament, several eyebrows
were raised. He was, after all, far and away the best batsman in the
line-up, and the others had not really proved themselves consistently -
Ramnaresh Sarwan aside - to hold places in the middle-order ahead of him.
But now, looking back with the ample benefit of hindsight, it has proved a
master-stroke. His controlled 71 against Australia, which set up a win,
was the proof that his thinking had worked.
Come final, though, there's a chance that Lara could come up the order -
not because the West Indians are trying to pull a fast one, but because
they have been playing according to the situation all tournament, and this
has been integral to their success. With pitches and conditions varying
from venue to venue adaptation has been the key to success, and West
Indies have done that so far.
And Ricky Ponting will, by no means, be surprised if Lara reverses the
trend and comes out to bat early in the do-or-die final. "If they lose
early wickets, I don't think he'll come in that early. But if they get off
to a good start, I think he'll come higher up the order," said Ponting.
"We saw the game against India when he probably regretted the way in which
he came so low because the game nearly got away from them. I don't think
they will do that again."
It's always dangerous to say that a team has turned a corner, or come of
age, because these days it takes just one bad tournament to undo all the
good work done before. But there have been times in the past when West
Indies have been over dependent on Lara, and collapsed in a heap once the
opposition got him out of the way. It has not been the case here. Dwayne
Bravo has scored his first ODI hundred, Runako Morton has gone from
longest duck to unbeaten near-hundred against world champions, Ian
Bradshaw is on the verge of toppling Brett Lee as the No. 1 bowler in the
ICC rankings . Lara admitted that this team's resurgence was well on
course. "It's been tremendous. All the guys have been supportive," he
said. "Some have played 50 Tests and 100 ODIs. There can only be one
captain at any time, but there must be a group of leaders within any team.
It's not just on the field, but in practice, in team meetings, you have to
be able to see all of that to realise the contribution some of these guys
make. I'm happy with the way the nucleus of this team is coming together.
I'm very confident of the immediate future of West Indian cricket. I just
hope it does not break down at any point."
'Clive Lloyd has come in and we have some good coaching staff but the ultimate thing is
- the fact of the matter is - that the guys are believing in themselves a lot more' - Lara
© Getty Images|
In this day and age certainly - perhaps it's been the same all along -
cricketers are sensitive to criticism, and calling a team unpredictable is
not always taken well. But Lara certainly didn't seem to mind the fact
that his team were tagged thus. "I love the tag unpredictable, which means
that no opposition, no matter how strong they are can think that they're
going to roll us over," he said. "Of course Australia are the favourites.
They're world champions, No. 1 in the world, going into the match you'd be
unwise to think otherwise. We're looking to excel and carry that through
to the final. The two games where we've had hiccups in this tournament
have both been after we've qualified for the next phase."
The Australians, especially in big matches of this kind, have a tendency
of turning up the aggro a notch or two, Batsmen go after bowlers early on,
not allowing them to settle. Bowlers get under the skin of batsmen with a
chirp or two. But Lara did not thinking it was wise to try and fight fire
with fire. "I just think you need to play sensible cricket. The
Australians come and try to impose themselves on any opposition they
play," he said. "You have to play intelligent cricket, match them at all
times, and take that extra step when the right time comes. Playing with
flair or attacking cricket is not going to scare the Australians. You have
to play sensibly, put in a good team effort. The smarter team is going to
Very early in the tournament, a senior journalist who has watched Lara play over
the years, suggested that there was something different about him when he
addressed a press conference. He suggested that the arrogance that came
with youth and stardom had given way to something more mellow. And the
manner in which he answered a question on the Ashes - a fairly absurd one
given he was playing in a big final the next day - saying, "I have a final
to play tomorrow, sorry," showed that this was certainly a different Lara
from the one of a few years ago, when he might lost his cool a touch. The
beauty about Lara, though, is that the slowing of reflexes that
inevitably accompanies aging has more than been compensated by the
gaining of experience. He can still bat with the same authority and
fearless power that he showed all those years ago.
The one thing that underscores the change in Lara as a man, though, is
that he talks so little of himself and so much of the team, and even after
attending approaching a dozen press conferences of his this tournament,
you don't get the feeling that it is purely management-speak, like you do
with some other international captains or coaches. "We have grown as a
team, there's a lot more self belief in this camp," he said. "Clive Lloyd
has come in and we have some good coaching staff but the ultimate thing is
- the fact of the matter is - that the guys are believing in themselves a
lot more and they want to prove themselves as worthy contenders of
retaining the trophy."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo