Some significant changes

THE latest cull in West Indies cricket, a periodical feature that has reflected its sharp decline and eliminated four captains and four coaches in seven years, was of even more significance than usual.

TONY COZIER

It is clear that Brain's Lara's desire to captain the West Indies has been rekindled by the emergence of exciting young players such as Ramnaresh sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle and Jermaine Lawson, all in their early 20s. It is a final chance for him to erase an intemperate past and leave a legacy far beyond the runs he leaves in the book.-Pic. AP

THE latest cull in West Indies cricket, a periodical feature that has reflected its sharp decline and eliminated four captains and four coaches in seven years, was of even more significance than usual.

It brought back Brian Lara as captain in place of Carl Hooper for the two potentially difficult home series against Australia and Sri Lanka, three years after he voluntarily resigned the post for which he had long been earmarked, installed Ramnaresh Sarwan, 12 years Lara's junior, as vice-captain and chose Bennett King, an Australian without so much as first-class playing experience, as the first foreign coach.

But King is not prepared to take up the job and Gus Logie, the youth coach for the past four years, will act as the coach during the Australian and Sri Lanka series.

The changes inevitably brought widely conflicting interpretations.

They were either a bold move by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to introduce a fresh approach to the development of a promising young team or unnecessary panic at a time when the work of Hooper and coach Roger Harper had just started to bear fruit.

Lara will have to overcome well-established misgivings to regain public confidence. As it is, chairman of selectors, Sir Viv Richards, made it plain that he was in favour of keeping Hooper at the helm but was outvoted by his colleagues, Gordon Greenidge and Joey Carew.

For all his rare talent and his records, Lara is the most complex and controversial player ever to have worn West Indies' colours. He carried a long list of disciplinary misdemeanours when first made captain in 1998 and quit two years later, citing "moderate success and devastating failure".

A gradual maturity has been evident since then and his recent problems have been caused only by illness and injury.

He described the intervening years after giving up the captaincy as "a period of introspection of looking and seeing where I had gone wrong.''

"Now it's a big challenge," he said. "I think it would be a dereliction of duty if I was presented the job and turned it down."

It is clear his desire has been rekindled by the emergence of exciting young players such as Sarwan, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle and Jermaine Lawson, all in their early 20s. It is a final chance for him to erase an intemperate past and leave a legacy far beyond the runs he leaves in the book.

The words of Harper, who did not reapply for an extension of his three-year contract, spell out the gravity of the task.

Referring to the insularity that is a prime cause of the problems, the outgoing coach said: "Until we get rid of that, until we start thinking as one, until we have common ideals and common goals then we are not going to get anywhere because we are creating monsters. What people expect is that we breed children for 20 years and, what has not been instilled in them in those 20 years, they expect them to come into a West Indies team and, in two months' time, for the management to put it right. It is not going to happen."

Only four days before the appointment of Lara was announced, another potential flash point — the simmering rift between the players and the board — surfaced through a players' strike over fees for the domestic tournament that delayed the start of the Carib Beer Cup semi-finals by a day.

These are issues that, while not entirely peculiar to the West Indies, are more pronounced than anywhere else. They are obstacles over which several captains and coaches have stumbled and fallen and are no less difficult for the new pair who now take them on.

Even Carl Hooper, the deposed captain, has pulled out of the series against Australia.

Contentiously appointed in 2001 immediately on his return from two years in retirement, his brief tenure has been the norm for captains in the recent, turbulent times. None of those who immediately preceded him — Courtney Walsh, Lara himself and Jimmy Adams — had survived any longer and, given the evidence, there must be doubt over whether Lara's second term can outlast his first.

Indeed, the simultaneous appointment of Ramnaresh Sarwan as vice-captain was a clear hint that Lara would merely be keeping the seat warm until Sarwan, at 22, twelve years the captain's junior, was considered worldly enough to take over.

While the first round elimination in the World Cup and his own declining form were reasons for Hooper's demise, they were neither the only nor the main ones.

He is now 36, his aging knees needed surgical attention last December and his presence would have occupied a middle order place better utilised by one of the talented, young emerging batsmen.

It was a reality that he himself accepted.

"I must be unselfish and ask myself if my presence in the team would not be unfair, by blocking the path of some younger and promising player," he said.

Although he has taken his dismissal stoically, it has denied him the chance to fulfil the goal that he clearly set out during the tour of India last year.

"One of the reasons I came back to international cricket was to help West Indies cricket go forward," he declared. "The world has begun to lose respect in us. It is not good for us or for that matter for the game in general."

The mantle has now been passed back to Lara to see if he can regain that respect.