March 19, 2000

Lara's influences missed, or not?

Colin E. Croft

My first question to Roger Harper at the team press briefing at the end of the second day of the 1st Test match between the West Indies and Zimbabwe was simple: "Did you and the team, under the present circumstances of the game, miss the presence, dynamism and batsmanship of Brian Lara?"

Harper's answer was somewhat informative: "We have already said that we know and accept that Brian will be missing this season. All we can do now is to make sure that someone, maybe everyone in the team, understand that they will have to take up more of the slack, be more responsible to fill the void left by Brian's absence."

With the West Indies only managing 187 in their first innings after being sent in by the Zimbabweans, and this only after both Jamaican debutantes, Chris Gayle, with 33, and Wavell Hinds, with 46 not out, had managed to save the West Indies team's batsmen from further embarrassing blushes by two fighting innings, one wonders what might have been the thoughts of Brian Lara himself. Had Lara played, perhaps Hinds would not have been considered. Very ironic, this twist.

The attendance for the first three days of the Test totaled about 3000 per day in the 30,000 capacity Queens Park Oval. Very disappointing indeed. There are at least three themes of thought for obvious lack of interest, or at least lack of support, of this game.

Firstly, "The Prince of T&T," Brian Charles Lara, was not playing. Normally, half of the arena's normal population come simply to see Brian, especially the older men who remember batsmen like (Sir) Everton Weeks, and likened Lara's batsmanship to those old stalwarts, or the younger women, who admire Brian for any and every reason anyway.

Secondly, not only was Lara not playing, but, to add insult to injury, no player at all from Trinidad & Tobago; fast bowler Merve Dillon and leg-spinner Dininath Ramnarine being the only two up for selection; was selected for the West Indies final 13 for the Test.

Thirdly, the population could not be bothered by the presence of what they perceive to be a mediocre, lower placed team in the pecking order of world cricket, as many seem to think, very wrongly, I might add, that Zimbabwe are.

Overall, the apathy as regards the present state of West Indian cricket, with all of the insularityfilled rhetoric, could well be responsible for the lack of attendance. Zimbabwe, though, are out of the loop. While the first two are genuine points, the last could be proved very wrong. Indeed, it has already been proved wrong as Zimbabwe are holding their own well in this inaugural Test between the countries.

Fast bowler Heath Streak, with 4-45, and leg spinning Test debutante Brian Murphy, with 3-32, managed to mesmerize the West Indian batsmen. Had the two Jamaicans also making their debuts not played with great maturity, the West Indies would have made less than 100.

When they batted, the Zimbabweans also showed great resilience in recovering from two wickets down for no runs in the book, courtesy of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. By the end of the 2nd day, they had recovered to be 109-3; while their captain, Andy Flower, by the end of the 3rd day, had made a historic 113 not out from a total of 236, a useful lead of 49. This after he was doubtful for the Test because of an ear injury. Zimbabwe have won the first three days so far. For the West Indies to be back on par at the end, Ambrose and Walsh will have to have a decided say in the rest of this Test.

Another irony was that Lara was actually there to see most of the first two days. Having shown great solidarity with the team by going to the team's hotel for talks with his great friend, new captain Jimmy Adams, and going to the dressing rooms on the first day of the game, after having his photograph taken with beneficiary Courtney Walsh for the media houses on the last practice day, Lara then repaired to one of the corporate boxes during the Test "to relax" and view the proceedings in comfort.

This is probably the start of his "total time away from cricket to refresh both my mind and body" as advocated by Lara when he abdicated from the captaincy and the team altogether. Lara is due to spend at least two weeks in the United States of America receiving "stress therapy" immediately after this 1st Test ends, but this could be extended further, "depending on his response to the treatment."

Said Lara; "I am very stressed. I am going to the United States for some therapy. I need to do this now, so that I can return to the game as soon as possible. I expect that I would only miss the Zimbabwe and Pakistan tours. I know that I will come back a much more focussed person, and a better cricketer, as I realize that in the Caribbean, cricket is everything to everyone. While one lives here in the Caribbean, international cricket is really the only real means of showing one's self on the world stage."

Jimmy Adams, the unflappable captain, reflects too. "Without Brian, we still have a job to do. While we will miss him, I think we can give a good account of ourselves and come out as winners of the Test match and the Test series." With his team only getting 189 and he himself getting only 15, Adams already has enough problems without taking on the additional situation of his great friend. The job at hand is much more imminent, perhaps much more important too. Over the next few days, Adams has to find a way to bring his team from the edge of another disaster brewing on the field of play.