Brian Lara played at a time when private T20 leagues hadn’t proliferated and the West Indian dominance was a recent memory. Today, large paycheques and the prospect of a comparably easy workload are threatening to lure away aspirants from Test cricket, and the batting legend hopes there isn’t “too much damage” done in further reducing the strength of the West Indian Test team.
Lara feels the onus is on Cricket West Indies to ensure the Test team remains strong.
“Cricket is a unique unifying force [in the Caribbean], but it still has its problems to keep us unified in terms of getting the infrastructure needed,” Lara remarked at an interaction with the media here on Saturday.
“I’m hoping that the present West Indies president, Jimmy Adams, Director of Cricket, [and other] cricket officials for the West Indies, [are] going to come up with a plan to ensure that the West Indies remain strong or get strong again in Test cricket,” he said.
He added: “A youngster may want to do different things, but if you have a structure in place, letting them know the guidelines, I believe you can have the effect of what the Baggy Greens has in Australia and what the English and Indian cricket teams have. They have the most exciting T20 league. But yet they are very excited about Test cricket. They're very excited about all versions of the game. And we need to get that love back for Test cricket.”
The initiative of the International Cricket Council to introduce a Test Championship is a lifeline for the format, admitted Lara, but there would be many hiccups. Ultimately, only the enthusiasm of the young players would sustain it in the long run, Lara felt.
“I feel Test cricket will be given a good little lifeline with the introduction of a Test league. I don't think that they have it right yet in terms of the ICC; in terms of how they are distributing the points. This is the first time; they have to sort of clean things up as they see little things that may go wrong.
"A big series like the Ashes between England and Australia is always going to remain; it is nice to see Afghanistan given Test status. But you hope and pray that young cricketers are the ones to drive it. Give it the respect that it deserves,” he said.
Lara accepted Test cricket would be adversely impacted by T20.
“The game has evolved and it happened at the end of my career where T20 came around, and I'm very thankful that I got an opportunity to concentrate on the longer version of the game. Just remember, I grew up in the 1970s when every parent wanted his sons to play for the West Indies. Yes, it will take away from Test cricket. Do I want it to? No. But this is the way how it goes.“
The legendary left-hander also felt cricket is forced to adapt itself to the changes in viewer's experience.
"People want a sport that they can go on an afternoon and watch with their kids. It's not going to take five days. I'm not talking badly about Test cricket but that's what the present crop wants. You've got to give them what they want because we all entertainers. But people come in through the turnstiles and people sponsoring - we are entertainers and that's where the game is going,” he said.
Among such entertainers are players like David Warner, who recently scored an unbeaten 345 against Pakistan in a Test in Adelaide. Lara felt Warner looked “destined” to break his own record for the highest individual score of 400.
“I had a chat with him. After the game I met him on the golf course. And he said, it's not just me, it's a team decision. And he would have loved to have had the opportunity to go for it. In hindsight, with Australia winning with a day to spare, with me being in Adelaide was a bit lovely (sic)," he said.
Lara felt that attacking batsmen such as Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have the ability to break his highest individual Test score of 400.
"I think with a guy like Virat Kohli (could), with the way he scores, Rohit Sharma, also a player on his day or a day and a half could definitely break the record. The game has to keep improving; the game has to always remain exciting. And sitting down as a 50-year-old with two records is not that exciting. I could tell you that,” Lara said.