'Brian Lara's late decision not to play in the final against Barbados was the right one for a number of reasons'
Two players showed real leadership for the home team at Guaracara Park, leaving it up to an assortment of talented but impetuous followers to fail to build on foundations of selflessness and solidity.
Whether or not he was influenced by the widespread debate over the wisdom of returning to national duty for the first time this season, Brian Lara's late decision not to play in the final against Barbados was the right one for a number of reasons. It's no point being wise after the fact and lamenting that Lara should have played because he had a better chance of prospering against the excellent bowling of senior bowlers Pedro Collins and Corey Collymore, who also showed the value of discipline, control and experience on a generally unresponsive track.
The fact is that, when the public address announcer did not mention his name in the final XI just before play, there was no great rumbling of discontent among the expectant multitude. If the truth be told, some of them were already primed to unleash some warm picong on the senior statesman of regional cricket about picking and choosing when to play for the country.
Even if he was relieved to avoid that quintessentially Trini treatment (I'll tell about one of the best that I've ever heard at the end of this column), Lara must have been pained at the reckless manner in which a succession of precocious young men made gifts of their wickets. Yet it would at the same time have been enormously reassuring to see how one of his more mature protégés, Daren Ganga, held firm while many around him fell by the wayside through their own errors of judgment.
Inevitably, the question around the ground, and especially among us cynical media, was: Why?
The official word from the team camp apparently mentioned something about a knee injury or some other excuse, but let no-one be in any doubt that it was Lara himself who chose to step down, so ensuring that someone like Adrian Barath did not have to be omitted for this high-profile clash with the regional champions.
Inevitably, the question around the ground, and especially among us cynical media, was: Why? Was it a public relations exercise, a back-tracking from the original desire to play in the face of divided public opinion so as to be seen as the beneficent national hero, giving up his place for the benefit of a star of the future?
As easy as it is to partake in the popular pastime of rubbishing our own for the sake of a laugh, I'd like to draw reference to an occasion just over ten years ago in Australia that illustrated how - for all the accusations of selfishness, manipulation and arrogance - Lara often thinks ahead, even if it seems as if he wants to shape the future in his own image and his own terms.
It was December 1996 in Melbourne and the West Indies squad was about to head out to the MCG for the first match of the tri-nation limited-over series against the Aussies. As he was putting his gear together, Lara wanted to send the message back home via an interview that young players like Ganga should be given a break at senior national level in the upcoming season.
Earlier that year, Ganga, who was just short of his 17th birthday, showed impressive powers of concentration over nearly six hours at the crease in compiling 80 for South in the annual North-South Classic at this same Guaracara Park. Clearly, Lara was impressed, so much so that he was prepared to put some pressure on his fellow selectors two months before the start of the regional season and from more than half-a-world away.
It can be argued that this is more evidence of preoccupation with his own objectives at the expense of more immediate priorities. But, like it or not, this is the way the man operates, in the middle or beyond the boundary. He almost always strives to be ahead of the game, whether that game is against Murali in Colombo or involves the national selectors in Balmain. Yesterday, with Ganga on 102 out of an unsatisfactory total of 275 for 9 with an hour left to play, Lara's vision of more than a decade ago seemed impressively sharp. Maybe Barath, the current 16-year-old sensation, will use the second innings to make his hero feel that the last-minute decision to step aside for this match was not in vain.
Getting back to classic picong, let's go back a bit further to November 1995 and the final of the regional one-day tournament between Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana at the Queen's Park Oval. This was just after the general election that saw the UNC come to power following a short-lived accommodation with the NAR, and as Lara and his national teammates were doing laps of the ground before play, a gentleman of East Indian descent, with exquisite timing, shouted from the Republic Bank Stand as the players went past: "Aye Lara! As we in charge now, we goin' change the name of the promenade to the Suruj Ragoonath Promenade!"
Every man jack, including Lara, broke down with laughter.
Good-natured moments like that make you love this place, which may have been why, later that evening, he pulled out of a one-day series in Australia even as the players were heading to the airport. Lara and cricket, on or off the field, are a compelling combination.