India in West Indies 2006 July 6, 2006

Lara's salvo badly timed

Fazeer Mohammed



Brian Lara inspects the Sabina Park pitch that gave so much assistance to the Indian spinners © AFP

Brian Lara should be careful about pointing an accusing finger, as there will always be three pointed back at him.

It is understandable that he would have been extremely frustrated in the aftermath of India's series-clinching victory inside three days in the fourth and final Test in Kingston. Yet, as much as he may have justifiable cause for complaint about selection and pitch preparation among the many other ills in the regional game, to reinforce those points in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's defeat leaves the impression that Lara is fishing for excuses.

No one understands Lara's influential role in Caribbean cricket better than the man himself, so his post-match comments, along with the suggestion that he may step down from the captaincy if the selectors continue to ignore his recommendations, were unlikely to be spontaneous expressions of anger.

As with most of his cricket-related remarks since returning to the helm almost three months ago, Lara sees his pre-eminent position in the game as one from which he can serve the two-pronged objective of being a father-figure to a bunch of talented but inconsistent team-mates, while at the same time campaigning for what he perceives to be the necessary changes to eventually turn the ever-declining fortunes around.

However, there is a time and place for everything. Blaming the selectors and the Sabina Park pitch mere minutes after the match is about as mistimed as any errant shots he would have played during the course of the series. It can serve no useful purpose other than to fan the flames of controversy and generate much heated and useless debate on the airwaves.

Joey Carew and company, who must shoulder some of the responsibility for results as a matter of course, will hardly take kindly to being so publicly chastised, while the Jamaica Cricket Association will no doubt interpret Lara's jab about the playing surface as an attempt to divert attention from his team's own performance in the match.

As strong as his words were, the captain's actions during his brief innings on what proved to be the last day of the series may have also had a telling effect on his team-mates. His sarcastic applause directed at head groundsman Charlie Joseph after offspinner Harbhajan Singh extracted sharp turn and bounce with a ball just eight overs old was almost a sign of surrender.



'Who is this matchwinning speed demon anyway? Fidel Edwards is injured, Jermaine Lawson's action remains questionable, while Tino Best is still erratic' © AFP

Only someone who has experienced the pressures associated with leading a struggling side at the highest level can appreciate the situation, but for a batsman of his class to make so public his dissatisfaction with the pitch was almost like saying that West Indies had no chance and that the match was as good as over. Yet they came within 50 runs of reaching what seemed an unassailable target of 269, rallying from 56 for 4 thanks to the counter-attacking batsmanship of Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, along with some sturdy resistance from all the tailenders, except Corey Collymore. The same Harbhajan who had prompted Lara's reaction just before lunch went wicketless in the innings, being hammered for 43 runs in a seven-over spell in the afternoon.

In taking 6 for 78 to bowl his team to an historic victory, legspinner Anil Kumble relied on unerring accuracy, not raging turn. If anything, the stroke-filled fightback after the demise of the openers, Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul underlined just how much this team has progressed in terms of showing much more fight and character than would have been the case not so long ago.

Indeed, bets were on in the media centre that the home side would not even get to three figures, so expectant were so many that the West Indies had already given up, especially after the captain's obvious display of dissatisfaction with the conditions.

Would the tearaway pacer that Lara has been pressing for since after the first Test have made a significant difference in Jamaica? Maybe, but the available bowlers didn't do a bad job in taking 20 Indian wickets for 371 runs. And who is this matchwinning speed demon anyway? Fidel Edwards is sidelined by injury, Jermaine Lawson's action - especially when he strives for extra pace - remains questionable (he was called for throwing in a local match in Jamaica recently), while Tino Best is still erratic and highly unreliable (he conceded 70 runs off ten overs against Zimbabwe in his only match this season).

But those are really just finer points embedded in the bigger issue. Are Lara's words and actions during this last Test the culmination of legitimate frustration or the venting of anger at the failure to have things his own way? In any event, it does the game here little credit to have such a globally-recognised and respected figure so openly at odds with people who are actually on his side.

Lara needs no lessons on tact or diplomacy from anyone, for he is too well schooled in the ways of the cricketing world to be accused of hot-headed naivete. However, even a mentor can slip up, and maybe it's just as well that the West Indies' next assignment, the defence of the Champions' Trophy in India, is three months away. The break should allow for emotions to cool and, maybe, just maybe, West Indies cricket can go against the grain of recent years by making meaningful use of a lengthy break in play.