Lara bows out with WI defeat

The greater the legend, the greater the tribute. In cricket this is always the hope, often the expectation, but only occasionally the reality. When Brian Lara walked to the wicket for the final time in international cricket, it was with the crowd at its feet and a platform well laid. Throughout his career – certainly the latter half – Lara has entered games at moments of distress or urgency for the West Indies. But come time to curtain call the man one last time, it seemed fitting that he be welcomed pleasantly. Thus with every booming blow by Chris Gayle, it was a decisive press to the end of preparation for the last remaining royalty of West Indies cricket lore. Gayle smashed 79 rom 58 balls, an appropriate opening act.

The crowd cheered each of Gayle’s 10 fours and 3 sixes, and by the time he was caught at third man off the bowling of Flintoff, the atmosphere was electric. Lara took guard with the score at 131 for 1 and set about his duties. Certainly there were nerves, for he would hardly be human – superhuman even – without such influences. But such considerations seemed trivial in the scope of the moment, and Lara eased to 18 from 17 balls. As much in tribute to the adoring crowd as for his personal tally, he reeled off an explosive square drive, the pick of his 3 boundaries.

Devon Smith found himself lost in the shuffle, confused and stifled, and he perished for 61 due to the sensational catching of Collingwood. Marlon Samuels joined Lara, unaware of the enormous impact he would have on the occasion. In pushing to mid-on, Samuels erroneously called for a single, and both he and Lara observed in horror the subsequent run out. Kevin Pietersen celebrated his dashing fielding and the crucial wicket and the crowd sat stunned. Lara, through no fault of his own, walked away from his final innings visibly disappointed, run out for 18. He did so to a gracious ovation from all the crowd and the England cricket team.

The weight on the shoulders of Samuels was then immense. The crowd thought him Judas to their saviour, the initiator of Brian Lara’s demise. Silence suffered the Kensington Oval, even as Sarwan was out for 3. The West Indies began to wobble at 181 for 4. It was the trigger-point for Samuels and he launched into a severe counterattack against the English bowlers. Samuels batted with a heavy charge, his duty as a mortal batsman and that of Lara, the greatest of his era. His 51 cost 39 balls and included 6 fours and a straight six. It was a delightful display by the future of West Indies cricket.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s tribute of 34 was more measured, but exceptional too. Trinidadians Dwayne Bravo (13), Denesh Ramdin (10 not out) and fast bowler Jerome Taylor (12) then made handy contributions in pushing to 300 all out. The English bowlers, bar Flintoff, sprayed the ball consistently and were punished in turn. Michael Vaughan was the outstanding bowler, taking 3 for 39 with his off-breaks.

A slow over rate meant a shortened break between innings and the England emerged to chase before many could come to terms with the earlier drama. The West Indies looked to complete their accolades with a victory, and it was Lara’s captaincy that urged the first breakthrough. Collymore struck, as Strauss tucked a delivery into the lap of Devon Smith, cleverly placed by Lara short and behind square. From there Vaughan engaged the challenge and accelerated with a thunderous pull shot to the boundary. He and Ravi Bopara stated intent to rain on Lara’s figurative parade, adding 90 for the second wicket in swift time.

The West Indies quick bowlers fell away quickly, and like their England counterparts, they were dealt with severely. Taylor speared a short ball in at Vaughan and he rocked back and fired into the stands over square leg. Even as Lara brought the slow bowling of Gayle into play, Vaughan merely chipped down the pitch and lofted him over long-on. A fine flick off Powell raised a fine half-century for the England captain at the start of the next over. And the action just would not ease. Samuels stretched for all his worth, but could not hang on to a chance off the bat of Vaughan. Yet the loose bowling indeed forced the fielders to take charge. A succession of missed run out chances were distant past when brilliant fielding by Bravo accounted for Bopara (26) with a direct hit.

With the ball Bravo troubled Pietersen with clever changes of pace, but again it was his fielding that held up England again. Another direct hit removed Michael Vaughan, missing out on a one-day hundred yet again. His was an excellent innings though, and in scoring 79 from 68 balls, he placed England in a good position to attack their target. The wicket slowed the ease with which England scored and Bravo and Sarwan continued to bowl with good control. And just when it seemed most likely, Dwayne Bravo struck again. This time he did so from the bowling crease, finding Paul Collingwood’s inside edge and then the stumps. The talisman, Flintoff came to the crease with the required run rate shifting toward 7 per over, and he looked out of sorts from the start.

Given Bravo’s origins from the same village as Brian Lara, it may have been a desire to honour his boyhood hero that provided the inspiration. But whatever the stimulant, the promise of his enthusiasm continued to shine through. He almost had Flintoff caught off the top edge, but Ramdin could not reach the ball in time. And as hard-hit shots were aimed at fielders, Flintoff’s frustration grew more intense. So depressingly predictably he holed out to Powell in the deep for a tame 15. Having failed with the bat, Sarwan impacted with the crucial wicket.

The madness spread and suddenly every West Indies caught life in the field. Devon Smith issued a direct hit to remove Jamie Dalrymple (1) and the momentum was well and truly out of England’s court. Still, the expectations remained with Kevin Pietersen, too often at the heart of England’s batting fortunes. As the TV cameras pictured South Africa’s finest Heschelle Gibbs and Makhaya Ntini in the stands, England’s finest South African, Pietersen lashed Powell through the covers for a boundary. He raised his half-century from 60 balls in the following over.

The variations of Bravo and Taylor were matched by the prowess of Pietersen and he crossed 2000 runs in his path. Nixon collected 2 runs to announce the 50-run partnership from 43 balls. At the start of the 46th over, England required 47 for victory and Collymore returned to the attack. Against the trend of play, Gayle made a mess in the field and failed to run out Pietersen. The next over he belted Taylor for six to raise an outstanding hundred, his fourth in ODI cricket. The blow was so mighty it required a change of ball. In the time aside, Taylor re-assessed his strategy, then brought it to fruition in pegging back Pietersen’s legstump immediately upon resumption.

As he did so impressively with his hat-trick against Australia in last year’s Champions Trophy, Taylor provided the incisive blow at the death. Pietersen’s brilliance measured as far 100 from 91 balls, but he left with England still needing 31 from 24 balls. At the hectic demand, Plunkett skied the ball to the safe hands of Bravo in the deep and the crowd stood in full voice. These days the England batting extends beyond Pietersen, however, and Paul Nixon collected 3 boundaries off a Collymore over. When the final ball of the over flew over Ramdin’s head for four byes, the requirement was down to a run-a-ball with two overs remaining.

Nixon dramatically clipped a Taylor yorker to the fine leg boundary and England seemed on top again. But for all his worth in the clutch, Bravo would not be denied. Continually the livewire, he bowled Nixon with an excellent slower ball, ending an equally outstanding innings of 38. A loud shout for leg-before-wicket was denied against Anderson first ball and a leg-bye the result. By the time Bravo set himself to bowl the penultimate delivery of the game, England required 2 runs. Fresh-faced and distinctly timid in appearance, 20-year-old Stuart Broad took strike, playing his first World Cup innings.

As the situation demanded, Bravo bowled a full length slower ball, but allowed room for Broad’s bold swipe. The ball looped up over the infield, hanging in the air for a seeming eternity. As the batsmen crossed for the second and winning run, the oldest man of the field charged after the ball with admirable vigor. Brian Lara fielded the ball and fired in the return, ensuring that his last action in international cricket was as committed as any of his finest over his magnificent career. Though England sneaked victory by a wicket, the thrilling finale was becoming of the celebration atmosphere. For some, a convincing win for the West Indies would have been the ideal result to bid Lara farewell. But a cricketer so epic in stature deserved nothing less than a captivating game of cricket as his ultimate tribute.

West Indies 300 all out (49.5 overs)
Chris Gayle 79, Devon Smith 61, Marlon Samuels 51
Michael Vaughan 3-39, Andrew Flintoff 2-59

England 301-9 (49.5 overs)
Kevin Pietersen 100, Michael Vaughan 79, Paul Nixon 38
Dwayne Bravo 2-47, Jerome Taylor 2-65

England won by 1 wicket.

Cricket Web Man of the Match: Kevin Pietersen 100 (91)

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