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Lara's day in Jamaica

BRIAN Lara has answered his critics (including this writer) in the best possible way. I would rank this innings of his far above the 277 he made in Sydney. But then the batsman always knows which one was better in terms of timing, in terms of getting the ball in the midddle of the bat all the time and in terms of the sense of mastery which he feels. (Gavaskar, for example, ranks the century he made at Old Traffford on a sticky wicket as his best). But it sure was the perfect way to resurrect the West Indies.

About the only innings in recent times which ranks even a bit close is the hundred which Mark Taylor made in the second innings of the first Test of the Ashes series in 1997. He had been having a run of low scores, Australia had their backs to the wall and the pressure on him must have been tremendous. He was fighting to hold onto the captaincy as well. Taylor's answer was a century.

But then, the Australians were not on a losing streak at that time. There was no public baying for the captain's head. And the Aussies were definitely not coming off an innings where they had just managed to accumulate their lowest score in Test cricket. When one considers all those factors, then the concentration which Lara must have can be gauged. With the vultures circling around him, he set out to play the innings of his life. And those who saw it are indeed fortunate.

Some players can transcend mere mortals when they reach a certain level of batsmanship. Sobers was one, Richards another. Of today's batsmen, only Tendulkar and Lara can come close. The West Indies captain hasn't done anything internationally for a long time. But this one innings was enough to remind everybody who has written him off that the magic is still there. When he does turn it on, then there is no parallel.

This innings, much like Lara's 277, may turn the whole series around. That time, in 1992-93, the Windies had lost the first Test and the Aussies had had the better of the exchanges in the second. In the third, they were 30-odd for two, Haynes had just gone, and Australia had 503 on the board. Lara came in and the rest is known; nobody even remembers that Richardson got a century in that innings. The West Indies drew that Test, won the fourth by one run and the fifth handsomely.

But, as Lloyd said, one swallow does not a summer make. The West Indies have to win in Barbados and then either draw or win again in Antigua. And Australia are not pushovers; they can come back roaring. Remember, they have a marked weakness when they have a small total as a target in their second innings. They chased 175 in Melbourne last year and lost to England by 12 runs; this time they chase 175 to avoid the follow-on and exceeded it by only two runs. But after the defeat in Melbourne, they hammered England in the final Test.

It must also be borne in mind that Lara and Adams made 307 of that total of 431. Such scoring cannot happen every day. The others have to pool in as well. The bowlers did their job as usual and if they have that much more rest, then the same job, or better, can be expected from them. Walsh and Ambrose have served the team as no others have and they will play their role.

There are examples aplenty of batsman or bowlers setting out with a mission and one that does come to mind easily is the series in England in 1976 when Greig made his well-known comments about making the West Indies grovel. Richards stuffed them back up his gullet with a display of cultured violence. This time, before the Australian tour began, Dennis Lillee wrote an article in the West Australian newspaper; the gist of it was that though the West Indies were down and out after the thrashing in South Africa, the Aussies should have no mercy and should grind them underfoot. It would be nice to see those sentiments repaid with interest.