A legend bids a tearful goodbye

Brian Lara acknowledges the cheers of the crowd after the match. The West Indies skipper has announced his retirement from international cricket.-AP

It wasn't the exit he'd have liked, but Brian Lara received a rapturous ovation from the Barbados crowd. "Did I entertain?" he asked. The roars in answer resounded for minutes. A report by S. Ram Mahesh.

The biggest sign that the Super Eight match between the West Indies and England cut it as a classic was that despite its many overwhelming sub-plots, it stood on its own as a credible, invigorating game of cricket.

It isn't of course possible to view it only as a cricket match: here the sub-plots add to it. England swung it by one wicket in the last over, and Brian Lara was forced to say a tearful goodbye.

"At some stages we showed what a side we can be and at others we were rough around the edges," said England captain Michael Vaughan. "But to get over the line in front of a big crowd, a Caribbean-style atmosphere was very pleasing. It was the first tight situation after the match against Sri Lanka, and it's always tough because memories of the last time can haunt you."

It wasn't the exit he'd have liked, but Lara received a rapturous ovation from the Barbados crowd. "Did I entertain?" he asked. The roars in answer resounded for minutes.

Having walked out earlier to a guard of honour from England's players, Lara hurried up the steps, done in by a poor call from Marlon Samuels.

Twice he saluted the crowd. In the three fours his 17-ball 18 included was a square drive for the ages.

"I wanted to put an innings together," said Lara. "I didn't want to play any rash shots, just play it on merit. Unfortunately, I got run out, but these things happen."

Did Marlon Samuels apologise for the poor call? "Well, that's a yes-or-no answer, and I'm not prepared to answer that," said Lara, leaving enough unsaid.

The West Indies made 300, losing its way after scoring 250 for four in 50 overs. Chris Gayle put indifferent form behind him with an exhibition of power-hitting. Such was his dominance that the first 12 overs were bowled by six different bowlers, each brought on with hope more than purpose by Vaughan.

Gayle's methods are based on an exceptional eye that picks length early. His feet do little more than supply a wide, rigid base for his upper body to power through. But, the trouble with batsmen who rely predominantly on hand-eye co-ordination is that a trough forces them to confront their beliefs. Often instinct is compromised by shilly-shallying with technical adjustments.

Gayle trusted his eye on that Saturday. He watched as his partner Devon Smith squeezed a square-drive for four. Convinced of the trueness of the track, Gayle clipped James Anderson for his boundary: the angle was played well.

Then, with little forewarning, Gayle picked Liam Plunkett up over wide long-on for six. Stuart Broad — with Plunkett and off-spinner Jamie Dalrymple, one of three changes in the England XI — was hit with a horizontal bat over cover. The eighth over, bowled by Plunkett, brought 22 runs. Gayle smote one through the line: just as well there were no fingers in the way, for they would have been mangled. Plunkett followed with a bouncer. Gayle, who had backed away, swayed from the line, and in attempting to leave it, fanned it over the slips for four.

But, he was caught well at third-man. His opening partner Devon Smith made 61. It was ended by an athletic reverse-handed catch at point: Collingwood took off to his left, hung in the air, and caught it right-handed.

Smith's was a patient effort that had its moments of absolute stillness. But, it might prove to be the innings that turns his career around. Gayle's 58-ball 79 had allowed Smith his time. The small left-hander from Grenada put a few drives through cover, and looked the part.

Samuels exploded to make 51, but England fought back in the final 10 overs. 301 could be chased, but it needed the top-order to fire.

Vaughan constructed a first-rate innings. His capability as a one-day player under question, he replied with 79: almost all of them through proper cricket strokes.

"I've not had a great World Cup," said Vaughan, "but I will say this — I am a fighter. This was a fighting innings from Michael Vaughan. And I started to play the way I know I can."

A hook for six stood out, but the manner in which he eased Gayle over long-on advocated the benefits of a still head and a nearly-straight swing. Ravi Bopara, at one-drop, might have made just 26, but he was in control of almost every facet of his batting. He displayed the nuance of wrist native to Asian batsmen; he wasn't found wanting when punching though the line with his top elbow extending straight and high.

Dwayne Bravo has a remarkable gift for breaking a static situation with bat, ball or in the field. He was to do it a few times this match, but the first two instances were when he ran out both Vaughan and Bopara with direct hits: the first despite a fumble and a falter, the second through a supremely athletic swoop having cut down the angle.

Finally, Pietersen made a century in an England win. His four previous efforts ended in defeat, and when he was bowled by Taylor for 100, having dragged England to the edge with his will, another defeat seemed imminent. Taylor's second and third spells, barring one over that went for 10, were excellent in their subtlety of pace.

The defining moment of the match happened in the 48th over. Nixon, who had been reprieved after Gayle chose to throw to the other end, hit Corey Collymore for three boundaries in and around mid-wicket to reduce the equation to a run a ball. Though Bravo deceived him with another of those slower balls in the final over, Nixon had done enough.

Stuart Broad, in his first World Cup game, kept his head to scoop the two that won England the game.

The Scores

Super Eight: West Indies v England. England won by one wicket.

West Indies: C. Gayle c Broad b Flintoff 79; D. Smith c Collingwood b Flintoff 61; B. Lara (run out) 18; M. Samuels c Collingwood b Vaughan 51; R. Sarwan c Nixon b Plunkett 3; S. Chanderpaul c Plunkett b Collingwood 34; D. Bravo c Dalrymple b Vaughan 13; D. Ramdin (not out) 10; J. Taylor c Dalrymple b Vaughan 12; D. Powell (run out) 0; C. Collymore (run out) 1; Extras (lb-1, w-14, nb-3) 18. Total (in 49.5 overs) 300.

Fall of wkts: 1-131, 2-168, 3-173, 4-181, 5-258, 6-276, 7-277, 8-296, 9-298.

England bowling: Anderson 6-0-39-0; Plunkett 7-0-71-1; Broad 6-1-32-0; Flintoff 9.5-0-59-2; Dalrymple 3-0-19-0; Collingwood 8-0-40-1; Vaughan 10-0-39-3.

England: A. Strauss c Smith b Collymore 7; M. Vaughan (run out) 79; R. Bopara (run out) 26; K. Pietersen b Taylor 100; P. Collingwood b Bravo 6; A. Flintoff c Powell b Sarwan 15; J. Dalrymple (run out) 1; P. Nixon b Bravo 38; L. Plunkett c Bravo b Taylor 2; S. Broad (not out) 5; J. Anderson (not out) 0; Extras (b-6, lb-11, w-5) 22. Total (for nine wkts., in 49.5 overs) 301.

Fall of wkts: 1-11, 2-101, 3-154, 4-162, 5-185, 6-189, 7-269, 8-271, 9-298.

West Indies bowling: Collymore 10-0-61-1; Powell 10-0-58-0; Taylor 10-1-65-2; Gayle 5-0-32-0; Bravo 9.5-0-47-2; Sarwan 5-1-21-1.