Lara keen on nurturing youngsters
Brian Lara sees his future role in the West Indies team as much as preparing the emerging, young players for the challenge of international cricket as compiling big scores.
"The youngsters have the ability but, at the international level, it's going to take more than ability," Test cricket's highest scorer and oldest contemporary player said after West Indies' tour of New Zealand ended with the abandonment of the rain-ruined third and final Test yesterday. "The mental strength is important and that is really where I feel I come in as an experienced player, someone who has played in a winning team and now plays in a team that's not doing too well.
"The mental side of the team needs to be a lot stronger," he added. "The mental side of every individual needs to be a lot stronger and that is where they are going to benefit." Lara, who turns 37 on May 2, carries the accumulated knowledge of 123 Tests and 255 one-day internationals over 15 years, along with his Test records of 11,253 runs and the highest score 400 not-out.
The five players under 25 on the New Zealand tour - Dwayne Bravo, Fidel Edwards, Denesh Ramdin, Dwayne Smith and Jerome Taylor - have 63 Tests and 93 ODIs between them. All have been less than three years in the international game. "These are the young guys we're banking on and the more experience they get at this level, the better it will be for us," Lara said. But he pointed out that it was not an ideal scenario for them to have to virtually learn the game at the highest level. "Ten or 15 years ago, that wasn't the situation," he said. "It's not the situation at present with the best team in the world (Australia) which has guys like Mike Hussey and (Brad) Hodge who played numerous first-class games before getting onto the international scene."
Lara noted that the "potential is there" among the young West Indians and was confident that most "belong here or will eventually belong on this stage". He was even enthused by fast bowler Taylor's brief appearance in the series, restricted to nine overs in the first Test before he strained his left hamstring. "Just to see him bowl a few overs in Auckland and you know the guy's got something to him."
Taylor and Edwards were both picked in the Test team when Lara was captain in the 2003 home series against Sri Lanka. Taylor was 18 and in his first season of first-class cricket, Edwards 21 with a solitary first-class match to his name. Both have been stricken by injuries. Edwards has had 23 Tests in the intervening three years, Taylor just four. Lara was mainly responsible for Edwards' original selection, based on his bowling at the West Indies during net practice in Barbados the previous year. The 24-year-old Barbadian was impressive in both ODIs and Tests in New Zealand. Generating pace close to and often above 90 miles an hour, he was a constant threat and was rewarded with his third take of five wickets in a Test innings in Wellington. "I still believe in him and believe he's got the potential to go far but he's got to keep working hard," Lara said. "He's still young and still learning."
Lara endured a sequence of low scores in the first two Tests, a disappointment for the cricketing public here on what he confirmed was the last of his three tours of New Zealand. Although he signed off with an innings of 83 in the rain-ruined final Test, following scores of 5, 0, 1 and 1, he was more concerned with the team's 2-0 loss in the series. "Personally, things didn't work out but I've been through these series before and I've said that it doesn't matter what I score, to come out with a series win is the most important thing," he said. "To falter in both departments is not a great feeling."
He cited the damaging effect of the manner of the defeat in the first Test as leading to the resounding loss in the second. "Auckland was definitely a big blow," he said. "We were in the game all the way. We played good cricket. We matched then stride for stride and, in the last furlong, you would say we were two lengths clear at 140-odd without loss."
He noted that confidence was "a bit dented" for the second Test in Wellington three days later and it was difficult for the players to pick themselves up from the shock of Auckland. "We've been in those situations before where we normally spiral downwards and it was every evident in Wellington," he said. Echoing coach Bennett King's earlier assessment, Lara maintained that the first Test showed that the West Indies are capable of winning but that they didn't grasp the opportunities when they came along.