Sir Vivian Richards fears that the unresolved dispute between the West Indies Cricket Board and the Players' Association could work in England's favour as they seek an improbable victory in the ODI series that culminates in St Lucia on Friday.
Despite being outplayed in the first three matches of the series, England stand to claim a 3-2 series victory if they can win the decider at Beausejour. They took a fortuitous lead in Guyana following John Dyson's misinterpretation of the Duckworth-Lewis rain-charts in the first game, before romping to an eight-wicket win in Bridgetown on Sunday, thanks to Andrew Strauss's brilliant 79 not out.

That most recent match, however, was played out against an increasingly disgruntled backdrop, with West Indies' players seeking an immediate resolution to the grievances about their contracts. Dwayne Bravo, who has returned to international action after an eight-month injury lay-off, claimed that he had not been paid any money during his time on the sidelines, while the forthcoming tour of England - which was arranged outside the Future Tours Programme - clashes with the lucrative Indian Premier League.

"The thing that worries me is that I am not sure what frame of mind the West Indies players will be in," Richards wrote in his column for the Johnny Walker Know Your Boundaries campaign. "I do not think that England are a better side than us right now - no way - but I think if minds are not settled by certain little issues, it can rub off on what happens on the field of play."

West Indies' captain, Chris Gayle, warned last week that his team was considering strike action for the final match of the series to hammer home their point, and that threat has yet to be fully averted. Richards, however, believes that Gayle's comments had been made in the expectation of a dead-rubber contest. With the series at stake, their motives might well now be different.

"The plan for last Sunday's match would have been to win and shut down the series, and not have to worry too much about this final match," Richards wrote. "We will all have to wait and see how things unfold, but I would expect that England's victory on Sunday does create a more interesting scenario for St. Lucia.

"I really do hope that the stuff which has been going on off the field does not conspire to ruin all the gains which the side has made," he added. "I think the way the players have played have been positive, but I think it is going to be tough for them whichever way the pendulum swings. Let's hope that the leaders in the team can get them all pumped again."

Richards also believed it was wrong that the players were being expected to take such a central role in the dispute. "I would have loved for the issues between the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players' Association to have been settled a long time ago," he wrote. "I continue be worried about the individuals that are leading the players at this point, and if they are giving them the right advice because the West Indies public does not need this - they do not want the dirty linen that is being washed in their faces.

"The public deserves more than this, and let's hope that common sense prevails and that we have some reasonable thinking. When you look and see the crowds that have been attending the matches - both the Tests and the ODIs - it means there are still a lot of people who love West Indies cricket, and see the slight improvement the team has made at this stage. I do not think the public need this in their face."