West Indies dispel myth they can't live without Lara
By Michael Atherton
I wonder what Brian Lara was doing on the first day of the ongoing Test match between the West Indies and South Africa? Did he watch the stirring batting of stand-in captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Wavell Hinds on a television in his mountain-top retreat overlooking the Queen's Park savannah? If he did, then an enduring truth may have suddenly dawned upon him: that no matter how great you are, or think you are, cricket and life will go on without you.
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Throughout the past decade, since his genius was confirmed with the first of his two world-record innings in Antigua, Lara has often behaved in a manner which suggested that he thought West Indies cricket was about one thing and one thing only: Brian Charles Lara. On their tour of England in 1995 Lara was a central figure in the dressing-room turmoil which dogged that tour. Think of the manoeuvring that took place before both his appointments as West Indies' captain; scheming that put an end to Courtney Walsh's captaincy in 1998, and Carl Hooper's career five years later.
Not that Lara's self-delusion is not understandable. If you are the biggest of fish in the smallest of ponds, surrounded constantly by well-wishers and sycophants, and if every achievement is celebrated as if the wellbeing of a nation itself is reliant on such matters, then it is easy to see how the head of a young man might be turned. How would any of us have coped with the adulation heaped on Lara throughout the past 10 years?
If you get told you are indispensable enough times, you start to believe it.
That is not to say that the rest of the Caribbean should have been taken in. Somehow the myth has been perpetuated that the West Indies simply cannot do without Lara in the team or at the helm. Yet they could hardly do any worse: Lara's career has coincided with a sad decline in standards and discipline of a once-proud team and of the 40 games played under Lara's leadership they have lost 23. Perhaps Tony Howard, the West Indies manager, saw things clearly when he announced on the eve of the first Test against South Africa that "we are trying to build a team that will work together". Not a comment that suggested a great deal of faith or sympathy in what had gone before.
Of all the good things to emerge from the Bourda ground, as Hinds and Chanderpaul put South Africa to the sword, the recognition that West Indies cricket is about more than one man was the best of all. Many of the fears on the eve of the match simply did not materialise. Although extra players were flown in as cover, the players' strike did not happen. And the Guyanese public, even though newspaper and radio polls suggested their loyalties lay with the discarded players, went in their thousands to support home-boy Chanderpaul and his makeshift team. Two of those not selected because of their arrangements with Cable & Wireless, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, suddenly realised their complete irrelevance in the grander scheme of things, and announced they had rescinded their contracts with immediate effect. No doubt the rest will soon follow.
The West Indies Cricket Board have taken a lot of flak over the dispute between the rival phone companies and sponsors, Digicel and Cable & Wireless. No doubt the matter should have been resolved at the outset and the problems foreseen. I have no doubt that over the last decade the WICB have been among the most incompetent of cricket administrations - the shabbiest of a shabby bunch - but on this matter they deserve some sympathy.
They were right to take a hard-line stance against the players and the increasingly militant players' association. The board have been criticised in the past for failing to invest in the future of West Indies cricket - the money from a sponsor like Digicel (£10.6 million over five years) enables them to do so. Digicel, in return, deserve to get what they paid for - which is support of the whole team, not just a rump of it.
Many observers in the Caribbean saw the build-up to the Test against South Africa as the culmination of a decade of decline, administrative incompetence, greed and insularity.
Perhaps it should be seen at the start of a new era. The board have at last stamped their authority and before this Test it was noted that the West Indies practised with a vigour, intensity and unity of spirit that hadn't been seen for a long time. The new coach, Bennett King, is from Australia - a land where such basics of preparation have long been the norm and where the notion that one player has more worth than any of the other 10 is inconceivable. Will he be strong enough to grasp the nettle in the next few weeks, though? Chanderpaul is probably not the man to lead them to the promised land, but any new era must start without Lara.
I feel this article is an absolute disgrace, and Atherton is simply taking advantage of the events of this one single test match. He is not fit to lick Lara's boots, let alone classify him as a parasite that West Indies cricket needs to rid.