Brian Lara generally speaks with a lot of insight and what he says usually contains a lot of substance. After the third Test ended in a draw, the style of his speech was as elegant as usual but there was little substance in what he said.
The West Indies skipper was obviously defending his decision to bat a second time without enforcing the follow-on, which meant that his bowlers had fewer overs to put the Indians under pressure. Eventually, this move not only flopped but also gave the visitors an academic chance to win the match.
It was too tall a task to score 392 in under three sessions with the ball getting soft and the bowlers keeping it wide of the stumps, but on paper, a target of 192 off 33 overs after tea with eight wickets in hand was a chance.
From the West Indian point of view, it was a disgrace to allow India even that flicker of hope after scoring 581 in the first innings. Lara, however, took it in his stride and justified his surprising ploy with some bizarre logic. He said he was wary of the fact that the Indians could put his team under pressure if the hosts were to bat in the fourth innings.
“Our bowlers were tired and we were one bowler short after picking just three specialists. So I thought if India took some sort of a lead, then batting against Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh might not be easy in the last innings,” said Lara, when asked whether he regretted the move to bat a second time.
More than anything else, it was a bewildering statement. What lead for India was he talking about? They were all out 219 runs in the arrears with around 120 overs remaining in the match. Did Lara mean that he was afraid that India would erase the deficit, build a sufficient lead and then exert pressure on the West Indies in the given number of overs?
And here comes an interesting spin to the tale. There were whispers -- these things can’t be screamed out -- that Lara was so unhappy with the selection of bowlers that he tried to prove his point by not showing any faith in them. He had actually gone on record before this Test that his thoughts didn’t match with that of the selectors.
His comment on the performance of the bowlers in a way reflected his opinion of the options at his disposal. “You saw that despite getting some rest in the fourth evening and also after resting a whole night, the bowlers struggled in the second innings. We don’t have the attack to demolish opponents. I wouldn’t have asked India to follow on even if I had a lead of 300.”
The point here is why should one give his bowlers fewer overs to do a job if he is so unsure of their abilities? Yet, it’s still premature and imprudent to interpret Lara’s statement as a hint of his confrontation with the selectors or his utter disregard for the bowlers.
So one has no choice but to go by what his official explanation was and that was as startling as his decision to allow India even an unrealistic chance to win a Test his team dominated. Not many can be amused by the sheer logic of what he said, but the Indians wouldn’t mind.