The Electronic Telegraph carries daily news and opinion from the UK and around the world.

England should beware Lara's rising influence

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

20 January 1998

NO CRICKET match won by a touring side in the Caribbean is to be sneezed at, least of all after a West Indian side have had to follow on against an England team for the first time on home soil in 44 years, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

After England's demolition of Jamaica, however, there was another significant happening, this time in yesterday's newspaper detailing Trinidad's six-wicket defeat of the Windward Islands in the Red Stripe tournament. Their captain was Brian Lara. Equal top-scorer in the second innings: Brian Lara.

There is no avoiding the pivotal importance of Lara's contribution to the series, which starts a week on Thursday, both as batsman and as captain, and his influence will be felt for the first time tomorrow when he attends his first selection meeting as captain of the West Indies.

The extent to which the other selectors will allow him to choose the side he wants will be evident, no doubt, from the choice of the attack for Sabina Park. Curtly Ambrose has just had a bad match against Barbados, the Trinidadian Ian Bishop a good one against the Windwards.

The coach Malcolm Marshall and chairman of selectors Wes Hall, distinguished fast-bowlers both, are inclined, it seems, to show faith in Ambrose. Lara may prefer Bishop, who was the key bowler in the tight game against India at Bridgetown when Lara temporarily succeeded Courtney Walsh last year.

Lara is bound to put in a word, too, for the huge Nixon McLean, who got him out in the first innings of the match against the Windwards at Port of Spain and gave him some more hostile treatment in the second.

Again, Lara understands and believes in spin-bowlers. Walsh would probably not have given serious consideration to Rajendra Dhanraj and his fellow leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine. Lara will want one of them on the relaid pitch at Sabina Park, which turned for the spinners in the drawn Jamaica-Barbados match. If not a wrist-spinner, he might agree to the promotion, at the ripe age of 35, to the Barbadian orthodox left-arm spinner Winston Reid.

We shall see. England are in no great hurry to find out. They have plenty to work on themselves in nets today and tomorrow at the Kensington Club in Kingston before choosing an XI for the game against West Indies A, which starts on Thursday.

The Test, naturally, takes precedence over the desirability of giving all 16 players at least one match in the first three weeks of the tour.

Mike Atherton warned the five men left out at Montego Bay that they could not necessarily expect to play in the second game at Chedwin Park, but I hope Ashley Cowan, who looked impressive in practice, will be given a chance, especially as Angus Fraser failed to find any rhythm in two brief spells against Jamaica.

Phil Tufnell has work to do, his satisfactory performance spoiled by bowling 12 no-balls. Slow bowlers have no excuse for that, and on a pitch, albeit a slow one, turning as much as the one at Montego Bay, he would have expected even better than match figures of five for 77.

Dean Headley, with nine for 46, was the outstanding bowler, although he will bowl even better and take one for 60 in other circumstances.

He spoke yesterday about the pleasure of performing well in the land of his grandfather - the name of the immortal George will stare at him from the main stand during the first Test next week - and, more prosaically, about the way in which his rhythm got better the longer he bowled. Unlike Tufnell, he reduced the number of no-balls he delivered to one in the second innings.

It is back to practice in earnest for batsmen and bowlers alike at Kensington today. Among other things the batsmen will be bombarded with tennis balls served with a racket from short range by John Emburey, excellent preparation for coping with the ball rising to the chest and head, which tends to be the staple diet in the West Indies.

Tickets for the third Test in Guyana went on sale yesterday in Georgetown, but there may have been an element of whistling in the dark in that decision on the part of the Guyanese.

England's manager Bob Bennett has been warned that because of the political unrest it is still likely that the game will be switched to Barbados.

The decision is imminent and has economic, political and cricketing repercussions. Barbados is a much more expensive place, but a more popular one for visitors than the low-lying capital of Guyana, where melancholy so often seems to hang in the damp air.

England's previous follow-on match occurred at Georgetown in February, 1954, when double hundreds by Willie Watson and Tom Graveney set up an innings victory against the then British Guyana.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at
Contributed by CricInfo Management
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:24