Lara bids to dictate pace


Thursday, January 29, 1998

HIS form has been less than princely and his opponents are upbeat and confident. But as he heads for Sabina Park this morning, Brian Lara, West Indies captain, will also have to think about a fastbowling dilemma and a dicey pitch.

All kinds of scenarios, permutations, possibilities will swirl inside his head as he leads his side out for the start of the five-Test Cable and Wireless series against Mike Atherton's English-men. At 28 and having taken over the reins of leadership with the Caribbean game at the crossroads, he will think there are more than numerical and psychological points at stake.

He must win over a public not unanimously convinced of his right to rule. But more crucially and more immediately, he faces the challenge of picking the right horses for the Sabina course. The relaid strip was the focus of more than merely curious attention yesterday. Dug up after criticism of its lifeless nature in the corresponding Test against India last year, the ``improved'' strip was mostly bare. But several little cracks could be seen snaking along the along the surface. And if first impression counts for anything, batsmen may not quite find it to their liking.

``The pitch looks a bit uneven,'' Lara conceded to the media yesterday. ``I don't know what will be the situation tomorrow. But both teams have got to play on it and I'm looking forward to our being the better team. We've just got to wait and see and hope that things work out. But, personally, it's very difficult to see it going five days from looking at it today.''

The captain tried not to rush to judgement. But he will be hedging his bets on winning the toss this morning as the decision on which of the six quickies to use has to be made before the coin falls.

Up to late yesterday, the starting four of the pacemen in the squad of 13 had not been agreed on. Courtney Walsh, Man of the Series in Pakistan and 24 wickets away from claiming the Windies Test wicket-taking record, was the only one who could breathe easy.

Battling for the other three positions are the veteran Curtly Ambrose 34, 30-year-old Ian Bishop who has struggled in recent series and the three young turks, Franklyn Rose, Mervyn Dillon and Nixon McLean, arguably the quickest of the lot.

Whatever the eventual combination, Atherton and his Englishmen are determined not to be fazed. Sensing serious decline in the Caribbean empire, Atherton is convinced that much has changed since his team were beaten 3-1 in 1994.

West Indies, as the England captain pointed out, have lost two series since then while his side, not world champs, are battle-hardened and buoyed by recent successes.

``We are more experienced team, four years wise,'' Atherton told the Express. ``And in that time, West Indies have lost a couple of series. They now know what it's like to lose.''

The side Atherton hopes to lead to victory in front of scores of his vacationing countrymen is one with solid batting, built around himself, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe.

But it is also a team with the experienced warhorse veteran seamer Angus Fraser and an ambitious pacer with strong Jamaican roots, Dean Headley. Vice-captain Adam Hollioake, if fit enough to play, could give added balance to the visitors. Lara will be aware of all that.

But looking down his own line-up, he will feel re-assured when he sees the names Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. However, the skipper knows full well that potential does not guarantee performance.

And very early in his reign, he is looking for the batting to lay a strong foundation.

``I think it is important for everybody to realise their responsibility,'' he said. ``I don't think one person can go out there and ensure there is a big partnership. That's what we are stressing on, everyone getting a big score. What I've been trying to do over the last couple of days is to ensure that everyone knows their responsibilities, knows the way to go about scoring runs. I also think it is important for me to score, to realise my responsibilities.''

Acutely aware of his recent shortcomings, Lara says frankly of his form, ``it isn't on the decline, it's at the bottom at present. But I think there's just one way to go: up!

``I'm looking forward to this being the start of something new.'' Whether that new day really begins this morning may depend largely on the ``501'' that he wields. But it will also depend to a large extent on how well all the Prince's men rally round their new leader... on and off the Sabina Park field.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:21