19 March 1999

Brian Lara and Dwight Yorke

The Trinidad Express

Two weeks ago, Dwight Yorke gave Manchester United a solid two-goal platform on which to climb into the semifinals of the 1999 Champions League Cup. And then he notched another double to help his club dump Chelsea out of the FA Cup 2-0.

And the English press were in their element, praising him to the skies.

And Brian Lara, whose West Indian team fell to their lowest ever Test score of 51 at the Queen's Park Oval, came in for a severe bashing.

But earlier this week at Sabina Park, Brian Lara slammed an impressive double of his own, taking 213 runs off the Australian attack in the Second Cable and Wireless Test.

And Yorke failed to score in the second leg of the Champions Cup quarterfinal in Milan.

But it is unlikely to force the writer of the following article, originally headlined "The future's Dwight-but not for Lara", to eat his words.

They come from a land of sunshine and for 20 years they have enjoyed the warmest of friendships.

Dwight Yorke and Brian Lara-soul mates, one-time flatmates, friends for life and sporting icons.

But today as one basks in the glow of adulation, the other faces the cold despair of sporting rejection.

For while Yorke was glorying in his two-goal performance against Chelsea which took Manchester United into the semifinals of the FA Cup, Lara was preparing for his toughest and perhaps final challenge as West Indies cricket captain.

Lara, who presided over the worst batting debacle in West Indies history earlier this week, almost certainly has to beat Australia in the second Test, starting in Jamaica tomorrow, to save his job.

The two have been pals since they met when Yorke was eight and Lara 10, after both being chosen from hundreds of kids in Trinidad and Tobago to join a sporting academy.

They made a schoolboy pact to reach the top in sport and since that day barely a week has gone by when they have not spoken to each other, either in person or by telephone, to urge one another on in their chosen sports.

"We became friends when I was about eight," says Yorke. "And from that day on we have spoken to each other every week and are the closest of friends. We inspire each other."

Recently, though, Lara's conversations with Yorke must have felt like a call to the Samaritans.

For Lara is in charge of a cricketing nation which has slumped from its position as the world's finest to a rag-taggle bunch of misfits and underachievers who could muster just 51 runs in their second innings against Australia last Monday.

Lara's own career, which hit the heights of a world record 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham seven weeks after taking a Test record 375 off England in 1994, has also been in a tailspin.

He has been described as a "spoilt child who needs psychiatric help" by Caribbean pace legend Michael Holding.

And, in truth, the Windies's decline can be traced to Lara going AWOL on the 1995 tour of England after a bust-up with former captain Richie Richardson.

He led a players' revolt over pay last year which resulted in frantic and embarrassing negotiations at a Heathrow hotel to save the series with South Africa-a tour in which the Windies were whitewashed 5-0 in the Tests and further humiliated 6-1 in the one-dayers.

Lara was given the first two Tests against Australia this month to redeem himself and his team, a trial which began with a humiliating 312 runs first Test defeat earlier this week.

It was Lara's worst nightmare and coming at Port of Spain, the home ground where he is worshiped, the effect on his fragile psyche and withdrawn personality would have been devastating.

Today, as he prepares for the toughest test of his career, there is little doubt that the world's greatest batting talent has been decimated by arrogance, belligerence and the relentless and distracting pursuit of money in a punishing commercial schedule.

There is little doubt also that the Windies will be despatched once more by the battle-hardened Aussies.

As sure as night follows day, that will see Lara stripped of the captaincy which he considers to be his birthright.

If ever there was an example of how sporting success can be as destructive as it is inspirational then it is in the present circumstances of Yorke and Lara.

On one hand Lara-a man who has become too big for his boots, distant and sullen with the players beneath him, at odds with the coach and management and without the patience and selflessness to become an effective captain.

On the other Yorke-a man whose boots just can't stop scoring. A man whose sheer industry and persistence has earned success, showing loyalty and application while learning his trade in nine years at Aston Villa, but retaining the ambition and desire to make it to the very top at Manchester United.

A man who admittedly has not had the international pressures of Lara-Trinidad and Tobago being a mere blip on the soccer map - but who has conducted himself with honesty and smiling integrity amid the turmoil and temptations of the money-crazed Premiership.

A man who has truly blossomed at Old Trafford and, even at £12.6million, looks the best buy Alex Ferguson has ever made.

Yes, that includes Eric Cantona. For if Manchester United deliver the Holy Grail of the European Cup to Ferguson in May, with the prospect also of a glorious treble including the Premiership title and the FA Cup, make no mistake it is in large part down to Yorke.

Since arriving at Old Trafford, Yorke, much as Cantona before him, has become the catalyst which has transformed United from a team with superb foundations to one with even sharper penetration and wondrous movement.

Like Cantona he possesses the ability to play in that vital hole just behind the strikers, holding up play and supplying inventive passes and exciting combinations with the likes of Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs. But mostly Yorke has the knack of scoring goals. Twenty-six already this season out of an incredible United total of 100, many of which have proved invaluable.

Such as the two he despatched against Inter Milan last week in the first leg of their momentous Champions' League quarterfinal.

Or the two more he scored, with Cole's valuable assistance, against Chelsea last night to earn a place in the FA Cup semifinals.

Whatever happens in United's three-pronged pursuit of titles, and the signs are set fair for silverware, Yorke must already be favourite to lift the Footballer of the Year award.

He may not possess the crowd-pleasing, though largely unnecessary, fripperies of David Ginola but he is every bit as talented and twice as effective.

Such recognition would be just reward for the man who has risen spectacularly from being one of nine children living in a three-bedroom bungalow. As befits his proud and even temperament he has never forgotten those roots.

"I remember when I was very small," says Yorke. "I told my mother one day I would become a professional footballer and she would never have to work again.

"I've made sure the house is a lot bigger now and they don't have to work.

"I appreciate the position I'm in possibly more than most when you consider how I came to play over here. I owe it to myself and my family to make the most of the opportunity. If I do the business I'll be known throughout the world."

With each goal his fame as part of Old Trafford folklore is assured. The place of his great pal Lara in the affections of West Indies cricket, for all his batting achievements, is not so certain.

Source :: The Trinidad Express (http://www.trinidad.net/express/)