| LARA: Has a point to prove
Georgetown: Brian Lara and Steve Waugh will have contrasting points to prove as the West Indies take on world champions Australia Thursday —the start of a Test series to relish.
The 33-year-old Lara, back in charge of the team after Carl Hooper’s demotion, will be looking to prove himself as a leader. Hooper made himself unavailable for the series late last night (as reported in Tuesday’s Late city edition).
Waugh, 37, axed from the one-day side as a front-line player but whose captaincy skills are unquestioned, will be keen to show he can still contribute with the bat in his world-record 157th Test appearance.
Their places in the limelight, following larger-than-life exploits in the past two series in the Caribbean, were already assured, but the absences of Hooper, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have underlined their pivotal roles.
Hooper, sacked as captain last month after the West Indies were knocked out of the World Cup in the first round, has left his selectors guessing over whether he will retire. Warne, meanwhile, is serving a 12-month ban while McGrath will return for the second half of the four-Test series after spending time with his sick wife.
Australia will also have to do without specialist batsman Damien Martyn (broken finger), while the West Indies, in some disarray themselves, are without a full-time coach following Roger Harper’s post World Cup departure.
The Australians, fresh from retaining the World Cup under the captaincy of Ricky Ponting, will be seeking to go back to the top of the world Test standings after being usurped by South Africa.
“I’ve thought about it a few times,” said Waugh. “That will be one of the motivating factors.”
| STEVE: A great record against hosts
Waugh will also be motivated after deciding to soldier on despite his disappointment at being dropped as a one-day player.
In the 1994-5 series, he averaged 107.25 over four Tests, including a double century in the decider at Kingston, Jamaica which effectively ended West Indies’ domination of the world game as well as paving the way for Australia’s emergence as the team to beat.
It was the West Indies’ first home defeat in 22 years and Australia’s first series win against them since 1978. Waugh, who made a century in the drawn tour opener against Guyana last week, was to be almost as inspirational in the 2000-1 home series, averaging 69.8.
Lara’s time came in 1999 when he scored 213 in the second Test in Kingston against Australia, followed by 153 not out in Barbados and 100 in the fourth Test. Within a year, however, he had resigned as captain after failing to arrest his team’s decline.
“In retrospect, I think it was a good decision...and now it’s a big challenge,” he said. “I’ve had two years of introspection, two years of looking and seeing where I’ve gone wrong, where I can play a part in West Indies cricket.
“I see my responsibilities and I want to play a part.”
Despite Australia’s problems — strike bowler Jason Gillespie is also just back in the side after being forced out of the World Cup with a heel problem — they will start as favourites.
Brad Hogg, so impressive in South Africa, seems certain to continue filling Warne’s shoes after his nine wickets for 135 against Guyana, while fast bowler Brad Williams will hope for his Test debut.
The West Indies’ glory days date back to the late 70s through to the early 90s — when they beat Australia in seven series out of eight and drew the other — but the Australians have turned the tables in recent series, winning three with Lara securing a 2-2 stalemate in the fourth.
The last time the West Indies triumphed, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop were bowling at the likes of Allan Border.
Lara may dream of victory, but his first aim will be to avoid a repeat of the last series in 2000-1, when Australia won 5-0 — the first whitewash between the teams in 20 series and 70 years since their first meeting.