Ponting points finger at 'selfish' Lara
A week on from Brian Lara's epic quadruple-century against England in Antigua, and the backlash has begun Down Under. None other than Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, is leading a chorus of players and commentators who believe that Lara's innings was self-centred, and has done the game more harm than good.
"It's hard to imagine an Australian player doing it," Ponting told AAP, notwithstanding the fact that Matthew Hayden came within 20 runs of doing exactly that against Zimbabwe last October. "It's generally not the way we play our cricket. Their whole first innings might have been geared around one individual performance and they could have let a Test match slip because of it. They ran out of time in the game - that's not the way the Australian team plays."
Nevertheless, Ponting conceded that Hayden's 380 at Perth did involve an exception to the team rule, as he was allowed to carry on batting with the record in sight. "It was a very rare thing, for Matty to be able to bat for as long as he did and go on and make that big score," said Ponting. "He was given the opportunity to go on and break Brian's record and he did that. He was going to be given another half an hour, or 20 minutes, to try to get to 400 but unfortunately he got out."
Ponting is one of a clutch of batsmen with the ability to overhaul Lara's new record, although he was adamant that the team always comes first where Australian cricket is concerned. "Everyone will be chasing it, and it would be nice to be the world-record holder," he admitted, "but as we've seen, it doesn't necessarily win you a Test match, which is what we're all about." Mind you, if Australia's Test series goes ahead against the weakened Zimbabweans next month, victory will be a foregone conclusion even before any thoughts turn to the record-books.
Ponting's sentiments have struck a chord with the former England captain and leading commentator, Tony Greig. "I'm certainly not raving about the innings," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I have to praise it for the sheer fact that he stayed in for so long but it wasn't an innings that you could be in awe of. It was clear he had the record in mind and was just going to keep on grinding it out until he got there. As far as I'm concerned that is not a good way to play the game, especially when you're the captain. It shows that Brian Lara is not a very good captain."
"It gives cricket fans there the chance to be euphoric for a while," added the ABC commentator, Jim Maxwell, "but there are big problems in cricket over there. There's a lack of discipline, a lack of talent and the wrong people are in charge. Lara has been an inconsistent performer as leader. He's 34 and this innings will give him more time, that's all. It's a shame because there are a lot of people over there who love cricket. But it's fallen apart."
But Derrick Nicholas, the chief operations manager of the West Indies Cricket Board, had quite the opposite view. "It's quite extraordinary," he said. "I was in Antigua when he broke the record. The tributes were coming in from all the [Caribbean] heads of government; the feeling around the whole Caribbean has been fantastic. We believe Brian's innings will renew interest from children in cricket."