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The Electronic Telegraph New Zealand v West Indies, Group-B
Martin Johnson - 24 May 1999

Lara on song as West Indies mark arrival at carnival

West Indies (158 - 3) beat New Zealand (156 - 10) by 7 wickets

Yesterday's crowd at Southampton was issued with plastic '4' and '6' placards to wave around whenever someone hit a boundary, though they might just as well have been given complimentary tubs of suntan lotion. One-day cricket played on bowlers' pitches is not much of a carnival, and even when someone made contact with a full-blooded drive yesterday, the ball mostly squelched off the blade with all the venom of a scotch egg.

New Zealand, despite conditions not unlike Dunedin on one of its balmier days, hobbled to 156 all out in 48.1 overs, a total which despite being two runs lower than their previous worst in the World Cup - began to look pretty formidable until Brian Lara came in.

The West Indies had scraped together only 49 for the loss of two wickets with nearly half their overs gone when their captain arrived. But with Lara's genius inspiring Ridley Jacobs at the other end, batting finally ceased to look an impossible art. Lara made 36 off 54 balls, slow by his standards, but electrifying in context, and Jacobs (80 not out off 131 balls) batted through the innings to see the West Indies home by seven wickets with 34 balls to spare.

The ECB's stated reason for launching the World Cup at this time of year is to avoid competition with other summer sports, though cynics might argue that it was a deliberate ploy to offer England half a chance of winning in conditions that suit them best. According to the official World Cup booklet of ``essential'' facts, the competing teams will be provided with ``close to 10,000 items of clothing''. What it doesn't say, however, is that currently they are all being worn at once.

Another gem tells us that ``75 tonnes of grass will be mown at the 21 venues'' (for the rugby World Cup ``mown'' will presumably be amended to ``smoked''), but it is the sap in the turf, rather than the grass on top, which is making many matches a feast of nudge, nurdle and grind, rather than the crash, bang and wallop that will appeal to spectators.

The West Indies' victory now raises the prospect of themselves, New Zealand and Australia fighting it out for two available spots behind Pakistan. The permutations are complicated, but it is not inconceivable that the West Indies-Australia game at Old Trafford on Sunday will turn into a potential 'sudden death'.

New Zealand began as favourites for this game, largely on the grounds that they had beaten Australia, but also because the West Indies had not so much begun this competition slowly as in a near coma. They conceded 21 wides against Pakistan, 25 more against Bangladesh and a further 17 here yesterday. Together with no-balls, they have thus far donated 77 extra deliveries to their three opponents.

Nor was their fielding up to standard, even though they caught all their catches, with Jacobs, the wicketkeeper, completing a fine individual match by claiming five of them. They do, however, appear to have the West Indian sign on New Zealand, as this was their 19th win in 25 one-day internationals between them.

New Zealand's virtues are discipline, hard work and making the best of what is by and large modest individual talent. They have acquired the nickname - the New Zealand Black Caps - in an effort to give them a sexier image, which is not quite as silly as calling yourselves the Kent Spitfires, but just as futile.

However, on this occasion New Zealand threw away the one obvious advantage they had over their more erratic opponents - keeping a cool head in trying circumstances - by panicking over a stagnant scoreboard. The pitch, offering sideways movement and occasional generous bounce, was made for Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, but every batsman bar Geoff Astle (with Stephen Fleming and Roger Twose particularly culpable) threw away his wicket.

Ambrose, returning after missing the Bangladesh game with a shoulder strain, bowled his 10 overs right through, by which time New Zealand had slumped to 39 for four from 20 overs without scoring a boundary, and when the dangerous Chris Cairns chipped a catch to mid-off, it became 75 for six from 31 overs.

Adam Parore and Chris Harris, though, put on fifty in 10 overs, and when New Zealand's nagging medium pacers got to work, it was a definite contest. Lara, though, strode in to thrash Gavin Larsen for six over long-on, Jacobs caught the mood, and despite the captain falling to a brilliant running catch, a stand of 72 of 15 overs had, by then, all but settled it.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk