THERE are a good many excuses I've heard advanced after a team loses but the one offered by Brian Lara after South Africa won the first Test by four wickets must surely take the cake. According to this genius, "our batsmen" failed. The bowlers did their part; the fact that Carl Hooper was injured and could not bat at his regular position in the second innnings and also could not bowl were other reasons advanced.
A day earlier, the same Lara was telling everybody that the man who would win the match for the West Indies was leg spinner Rawl Lewis! And while one has every regard for the tactics employed by the new West Indies captain, one must take issue with the use of the phrase "our batsmen". Who were these people who failed?
Why does Lara find it so difficult to admit that he failed and failed badly with the bat? This was a pitch where an experienced man could have stood his ground -- witness Shiv Chanderpaul's knock in the first innings. Or for that matter the sterling show put up by Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis, the latter a relative greenhorn compared to the great Lara.
So where was the captain? What was he doing? Is he going to have to rely on just one year in his cricketing life -- 1994 -- to justify his existence in the team? Everybody knows why he is captain so there is no point going into that. Even the aging fast bowlers did more than their fair share -- and given another 75 or 100 runs, it is extremely likely that the West Indies would have been the ones rejoicing today.
An opportunity to establish a psychological advantage in the series has been lost -- and at the best possible venue. The Wanderers in Johannesburg favours the West Indies pacemen much in the same way that Perth does in Australia. The other grounds are not as pacy and whatever advantage exists there will all be with the home team.
A moment's divergence -- what on earth is Stuart Williams doing in the team? I thought he had had one chance too many when he was picked to play against India last year. The funny thing is that Sherwin Campbell is in India with the Windies A team -- and he has showed far more application and promise than Williams has ever done. Ian Bishop is captaining the team and that seems odd too; why isn't he in South Africa?
Coming back to the Test series, I think that Lara and his team have just about seen the better end of the series. The West Indies were not humiliated this time but one fears that that is just round the corner. The old enemy Allan Donald has not yet got into form and the South African batting has yet to click into gear. Once it does -- and there are four Tests remaining -- the West Indies captain will have to look for more ingenious excuses than what he offered this time. It is time he started taking some responsibility himself.