Cape Town: South Africa fears mercurial Brian Lara more than others as it takes on a vastly-improved West Indies in the opening match of the World Cup on Sunday. It was Lara who secured the West Indies a place in the 1996 World Cup semi-finals at the expense of South Africa with a smashing century. With Lara declaring his intentions to bounce back after illness and establish himself as the number one batsman in the world, South Africans were treating his threat very seriously indeed in this World Cup. His clash with Allan Donald under lights would be a classic moment because of the duels they have enjoyed between them in the past. Donald claimed his team had a recipe to dismiss Lara cheaply and pointed out that the left-hander has never scored a hundred at Test level against South Africa. But Donald knows that when Lara is in on song it is very difficult to contain him. Asked about Lara's preparation for the match, Ricky Skerritt, the West Indies team manager said, "Brian is fit, ready and committed." Skerrit admitted Lara was under pressure to deliver at the big stage. "Critics at the highest level of cricket are in agreement that Lara is a genius. Obviously there is pressure on him to perform. Some of that pressure is of Brian's own doing because he has high levels of excellence and would like to maintain them," he said. But Lara has certainly displayed the ability to handle that pressure in the past. Asked about Lara's supposed inability to stay focused and motivated at all times, Skerritt said Lara has had a range of injuries and "situations" that had taken him away from the game for a while. "However, Brian is committed to excel against South Africa, and I am confident that he will perform at the World Cup tournament." Lara is widely known as the record-breaker who leapt into immortality with 876 runs which broke two of the most treasured records in cricket.
He scored 375 at St. John's, Antigua to better Garfield Sobers's word record Test score of 365. Only seven weeks later he surpassed Hanif Mohammad's world record of 499 by scoring 501 for Warwickshire against Durham. Both records were made before Lara's 25th birthday. Following these record-breaking feats, Lara seemed at times almost disinterested and dispirited but when he is focused, the Trinidadian is a match winner with a free flowing willow and Calypso-spirit. The question bothering both West Indies and South Africa is which Lara will turn up on Sunday - the unfocused and tentative struggler, or the well-motivated and hyper- active left handed genius. West Indies captain Carl Hooper believed the pressure was on the hosts.
"I think the pressure's going to be on the South African side." Hooper was also looking to the last time the two teams met on a cricket field to assert they were no longer push- overs. In a sensational Champions Trophy match in Sri Lanka last year, West Indies lost to South Africa off the last ball. "The last time we played South Africa, in all fairness we should have won," said Hooper. But South African captain Shaun Pollock was not too impressed with the Caribbean players.
"The West Indies is a quality outfit but so are we," said Pollock. "It has been playing on low, slow wickets on the sub-continent so it will have to adapt to South African conditions." Meanwhile, preparations of both teams were disrupted by unseasonal rain on Friday but fine weather was forecast for on Sunday.
The teams (from): South Africa: Shaun Pollock (captain), Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Boeta Dippenaar, Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes, Mark Boucher, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje, Allan Donald and Makhaya Ntini.
West Indies: Carl Hooper (captain), Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Ricardo Powell, Ridley Jacobs, Vasbert Drakes, Mervyn Dillon and Jermaine Lawson.
Umpires: S Venkataraghavan (India), Daryl Harper (Australia).
Third umpire: Peter Willey (England).
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle