Lara & another Enquiry

For the second time in his three terms as captain, Brian Lara is to face a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) inquiry into his leadership. A report by TONY COZIER.

FOR the second time in his three terms as captain, Brian Lara is to face a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) inquiry into his leadership. The WICB has announced the appointment of a committee, headed by president Ken Gordon, to "investigate all matters" relating to Lara's public criticism of selections and pitches after the West Indies' loss to India in the final Test of the recent home series. The committee was directed "to take such action as they may consider appropriate after these matters are discussed with him." Lara was out of the Caribbean at the time but the WICB said it expected the committee would meet with him by early August.

Apart from president Gordon, the committee members are all WICB directors. They are Gregory Shillingford, the Leeward Islands Cricket Association (LICA) president and one time WICB chief executive, and Clive Lloyd, the celebrated captain of the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, and Sir Alister McIntyre, the former University of the West Indies vice-chancellor, who were both voted into office as non-member directors at the annual meeting in Barbados recently. During Lara's first stint at the helm, a similar committee, headed by then president Pat Rousseau, was set up to probe the background to the 5-0 whitewash in the Test series in South Africa in 1998-99.

The upshot was that the WICB told Lara he needed "to make significant improvement in his leadership." It directed chief selector Mike Findlay to give him "specific performance targets" and only reappointed him as captain for the first two of the four Tests in the subsequent home series against Australia. It also criticised the management of the late Malcolm Marshall, the coach, and, ironically, Lloyd who was then manager, and set them the same targets as Lara.

Lara's response was phenomenal and unforgettable. He led the West Indies to victories in the second and third Tests with scores of 213 at Sabina Park and 153 not out at Kensington Oval after defeat by 312 runs in the first Test at the Queen's Park Oval. In spite of his even 100, the West Indies lost the final Test in Antigua to share the series.

A year later, Lara quit as captain and took a break from the game, citing "modest success and devastating failure" in his two years in charge. He was reinstated in 2003, persuaded by then president Wes Hall to return when Carl Hooper was dismissed after the West Indies' first round exit in the World Cup in South Africa.

Two years on, he was gone again after he opted out of the team for the first Test of the home series against South Africa. It was a gesture of solidarity with six players who the WICB declared ineligible because they held personal contracts with Cable and Wireless, the British telecommunications giant and former team sponsor and a direct competitor of new sponsor, Digicel, the Irish mobile telephone company.

Although he also held a Cable and Wireless contract — and still does — Lara qualified for selection because it predated the Digicel deal. He returned to the team when Cable and Wireless freed the others of their contracts but under Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who had been installed in his self-imposed absence.

Chanderpaul's resignation following the tour of New Zealand in March once more opened the way for Lara's recall, mainly on the insistence of new WICB president, Gordon, a fellow Trinidadian.

By now, the parameters had changed since the captain was no longer a member of the selection committee. It was a stipulation that clearly perturbed Lara.

After the second Test against India in St. Lucia, he pointedly summoned the West Indian press corps following his general media conference to complain that he wasn't getting the teams he wanted.

He specifically stated his desire for a bowler of genuine pace, identifying Tino Best and Jermaine Lawson. Later, he bemoaned the omission of left-arm spinner Dave Mohammed from the squad for the third Test and grumbled about the lifeless state of the pitches.

The situation came to a head before, during and after the last Test. After he lost, thus knowing his team would almost certainly have to bat last, Lara characterised the pitch as "not like the normal Sabina Park pitches." It looked "underprepared", he said, adding that he wouldn't want to have to bat on it on the fourth and fifth days.

What message such comments by one of the greatest batsmen of all time sent to his players in the dressing room was not difficult to imagine. "Things have not been in our favour," he added. "I think, in the natural state of things, they should have been in the West Indies' favour but they haven't been."

The upshot was an all-out first innings total of 103 that virtually settled their defeat. At the on-field presentations after the match, Lara laid much of the blame for the West Indies' defeat on "bad pitches and bad selection" and told the subsequent media gathering that he felt "let down" by the selections, asserting that "it is a situation where my reputation as a captain is dragged down."

He charged that the Sabina Park pitch seemed to have been "prepared for the Indians." After a delivery from Harbhajan Singh spun past his bat in his second innings, Lara turned in the direction of head groundsman Charlie Joseph and his ground staff beyond the boundary and mockingly applauded on his bat.

He later revealed he only received a letter from the WICB on June 29, but dated May 28, notifying him that he had, in fact, been appointed a selector. "I must tell you there is a meeting coming up in a couple of weeks and, depending on the selectors, I would definitely revisit my decision to captain the West Indies team," he said.

As it was, there was only one change among the three selectors. Ironically, Joey Carew, a mentor to Lara who had stayed in the Carew household as a boy, decided to step aside. The former Trinidad and Tobago captain and Test opener had been on and off the selection panel since the late 1970s and was convenor. He was replaced by Andy Roberts, one of Lloyd's fast bowling arsenal of the 1970s.

Gordon Greenidge became convenor, Clyde Butts was retained, Lara certainly gave no subsequent hint that he would "revisit" his position.

Indeed, he told BBC radio in England that he was looking forward to the West Indies' defending the ICC Champions Trophy in India in October and challenging for next year's World Cup in the Caribbean, adding that he would like to make the West Indies' tour of England next summer his swansong.

If it is, it would bring an end to one of the most celebrated and controversial careers the game has ever known.

* * * * CLIVE LLOYD TO TAKE TOUGH DECISIONS

Former West Indian cricket captain, Clive Lloyd, who was recently elected as non-member West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) director and chairman of its cricket committee, said he won't hesitate to take tough decisions.

"Our cricket committee is strong. We have some very strong guys there," The Nation reported Lloyd as saying to Mid-week Sport. Known as a hard task master, Lloyd said he would do things for the betterment of West Indian cricket and if that upset some people he won't mind it.

"We will make the hard decisions. It doesn't matter. If I have to do things that will upset people, I will, but once it is for the best of West Indies' cricket, that's where I stand.

"We on the cricket committee have got a lot of work to do," Lloyd said. He said the right people should be at the right places to improve things at domestic level. "Our domestic cricket needs ironing out. We have to get an academy that is run properly, where our young people have a chance of going in and coming out with all the ingredients that will make a top cricketer.

"We have to put the right people in place. The board has got to be very responsible," he said.