New Zealand v West Indies, 1st Test, Auckland March 8, 2006

Lara tired of being at the centre of the storm

Fazeer Mohammed

"I don't know if it was training for cricket or the Carnival' - Brian Lara, after shedding few pounds in the off season © Getty Images

Brian Lara has had enough of controversy. Mindful of his chequered career off the field that has sometimes taken the gloss off his almost incomparable batting feats, the West Indian batting maestro says his only focus now, on the eve of the first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park, is scoring runs and more runs in the desire to re-establish a winning habit in the side before his playing days are over.

"Since 1998, since that debacle in London before the South African tour, my name has always been at the forefront of anything to do with conflict and controversy and the West Indies Players' Association and the West Indies Cricket Board," said Lara yesterday, reflecting on the players' standoff that was a precursor to a disastrous tour.

"To tell you the truth, I don't even know if I got paid for the last tour [of Australia]," he revealed when questioned about the status of the lingering issue of players' retainer contracts. "I am more interested in playing cricket for West Indies. We've got a players association. It's a necessity and they are handling matters. My main focus now is to see what I can do on the playing field. Everyone has been dragging their feet on this retainer contracts issue. It's something I want to put out of my head. Just give me my MRF bat and I want to get out there to play."

Having compiled a double-century last November against Australia in Adelaide to eclipse Allan Border, former Australian captain, as the highest all-time run-scorer in Test history, it is inevitable that Lara will be assumed to have an almost obsessive preoccupation with personal achievements, especially as he became the first to regain the record for the highest individual Test score and also holds the standard for the highest first-class score.

Yet the Trinidadian insists it is team success that he really craves. "The team situation is what has always motivated me. I spent my first three or four years in international cricket on a winning team," he recalled. "Since our decline from 1995, a lot of the focus has been on my personal achievements. That is so wrong, from the way how I think. I play for West Indies. When I go on tour, I'm not going to try to score three or four centuries, I'm going to try to win. It has always been my motivation, even though we haven't enjoyed many of those moments.

"That motivation now is to see us turn the corner and start winning again," he continued. "To leave New Zealand, to leave Napier (after the third Test) as the winners of this Test series would be the greatest thing. I definitely won't be back here as a cricketer, so to do that would be something special."

Despite not having played any competitive cricket for more than a month, no-one questions Lara's ability to be ready for the big occasion, as he showed last year when he scored 196 at the Queen's Park Oval against South Africa in his first first-class innings for more than seven months. The conditions here are very different from his home ground in Port-of-Spain, but he is not daunted by the challenge.

"I feel ready. I've got 15-16 years international cricket behind me. I know exactly what it takes to go out there and perform," he stressed. "I am not going to sell myself short. I am not going to short-change my team. I want to go out there and start rolling from ball one."

Given his well-known love for the Carnival celebrations in his homeland, there was some concern as to whether the 36-year-old would be out of shape when he arrived here last Friday. But Lara suggested that the street "jump-up" on Monday and Tuesday of last week may have actually been helpful. "Everyone, including the coaching staff, was a bit shocked when I arrived here and they saw me looking a bit trim," he disclosed. "I don't know if it was training for cricket or Carnival. They just came hand-in-hand this time. "I actually think the extra two days in the streets helped."