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Problems Facing West Indies & Batsman Brian Lara (01 Dec 1995)

The Electronic Telegraph Friday 1 December 1995

Mark Nicholas on the problems facing the West Indies and their troubled star

THE finest batsman in the world is all at sea. The one man alive who can fill a cricket ground on his own accord is at odds with himself and, worse still, most probably even at odds with those whom he trusts. Truth is, right now he doesn`t much want to play the game that has brought him his gold.

When Brian Lara broke two world records in a magical six-week spell between April 21 - 375 in Antigua - and June 6, 1994 - 501 in Birmingham - D-Day, deliverance day indeed, he created the monster that in the modern, frenetic commercial arena of sport was so likely to get out of hand.

Now Lara hides at home, a sad victim of his own success and consequently of his own importance. He is at the mercy of West Indian cricket management and at the mercy of the media, who will hound him until they fathom why a chap with such genius can send a fax to his master and say enough, that`s it, I am staying at home. Poor Lara, how your scene has changed.

It may be that this sorry tale is not all that it is cracked up to be. It may well be that Lara has had a raw deal. It may also be that Lara will be with the West Indies team at the World Cup. But, then again, he may not. If there was any adequate communication between the player and his hard-nosed board he would surely not have faxed them so dismissively with his curt decision. If there was any adequate communication between the most brilliant batsman on earth and his board, his board would surely not have scolded and fined him as if he were an errant child. There is simply too much for each side to lose.

"You can`t let a player nip home for a couple of days in the middle of the tour as Brian did last summer"

Clive Lloyd, the most successful of all West Indian captains, is deeply concerned. "Yes, I feel there`s a danger of disunity within the Caribbean islands," he says. "So much work has gone into forming the discipline and spirit of a successful and supportive West Indian team that the idea of the old disputes reemerging is disturbing."

Why then could a situation of such alarming intensity have been allowed to develop with a gentle and charming man, a maestro of entertainment at its nerve centre?

"It must be The Management," Lloyd says. "I mean you can`t let a player nip home for a couple of days in the middle of the tour as Brian did last summer. Next thing they`ll all want to go home for a day or two on the beach. The trust must have broken down somewhere. Richie [Richardson, the captain] is a nice man but I guess for the moment the trust has gone."

In retrospect, some of the writing was on the wall a fortnight ago when Warwickshire, doubtless seeing the potential discipline problems that lay before them, agreed to release Lara from his three-year contract. The volume of cricket he was playing and the expectation that came with it had got to him.

This will have upset his manager/agent, who had negotiated a tidy deal, and they, one imagines, would blame the West Indian management for upsetting their boy`s apple cart. A rumour circulated that Lara and his manager had parted company. This apparently is not so. The manager claims his client`s time is not filled by too many engagements, but only that the people who control his cricket ask too much of him.

Warwickshire and in particular Bob Woolmer, the coach in the treble year when Lara carried all before him, have a different idea. "The trouble with Brian was twofold," Woolmer says. "We never knew where he was and he never allowed us to get close enough to know him any better so that we could help. The media pressure which surrounded him was absurd. I`ve never seen the like and none of us knew how to handle it.

"Actually, Brian is a lovely guy with a perceptive cricket brain, but his overall behaviour and his daily views were very set. They were all or nothing views which made him awkward to handle. He clashed with Dermot [Reeve, the Warwickshire captain] because they both needed to be top dog. He wasn`t flexible within a team framework and always accused us of thinking only of Warwickshire and rarely of Lara.

"I always wondered whether it was him or us getting it wrong. Communication was a permanent problem"

"In a championship match at Lord`s, for example, we gave Middlesex a few runs to set up a decent game after rain had cost us time. Dermot gave Brian a bowl and after he had been slogged for 26 he just walked off. He said it was no way to play cricket, but he failed to see the value to the match or to our championship chances.

"I always wondered whether it was him or us getting it wrong. Communication was a permanent problem. We did talk to his agent about it because if he turned up at Egbaston 10 minutes before the start of play, as he did quite often, we wanted to know why and to know where he had been. We had a team to pick, after all. After six months with him, and even a private round of golf at The Belfry, I still don`t know him any better. It`s sad in a way. One last thing, he never let us down on the field, you know, never."

Which brings us back to the initial question: Why has Lara taken such dramatic offence and what is to be done? On the surface, any player has the right to pull out of a tour. Not Lara it seems, however, because he has so obviously reacted in a fit of pique to the fine imposed on him for his apparent dissention during the tour of England.

"A new management team, if there is one, or representatives of the West Indies board will have to sit down with him," Lloyd suggests, "and not only with him but with the whole team. They must find middle ground otherwise the team will be split and then destroyed."

Clearly, Lara is not an everyday case but the genius in his blood and the delight he provides mean that somehow he must be accommodated. For 18 months, he has been pulled from pillar to post and at times, it seems, has despaired of where to turn. Something will have to give.

The pursuit of money, the mass media attention and a phenomenal overload of cricket have contributed to a dark period in a bright man`s life. The West Indian islands must work together, as they have managed to do now for over a quarter of a century, to find the carrot and not the stick which will rekindle the fire in the heart of cricket`s most complete current artist.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/et/)