Part of the difficulty for any West Indies side in England is the past. It is inescapable, from the pioneer tourists of the Twenties through the calypso cricketers of the Fifties, the bravura stylists of the Sixties and the brilliantly clinical exponents of the Seventies and Eighties.
The common conclusion is that the 2012 tourists will suffer the fate of their recent predecessors and be swept aside. Yet West Indies' most illustrious player of the last 20 years can sense a recovery. As Brian Lara said: "We have always had very talented young cricketers. How that talent is taken forward is another story. This team is full of talent. For this tour I think it is going to be tough for them. We are fighting, though."
Perhaps Lara looms largest of all. He straddled the last of the great years and the beginning of the decline. It is six years since he played his 131st and final Test and there are two batsmen of this vintage who do not wilt by comparison, Darren Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Watching Bravo at Northampton last week against England Lions was to think Lara had been reincarnated. The high backlift, the languid execution of shot, the breathtaking timing, the gift for playing as early or as late as he wished – all were present.
Lara's mother is the sister of Bravo's grandfather and the link between the batting styles was forged at an early stage.
Lara said: "Driving through the village in Santa Cruz [Trinidad] I would stop and see him with one hand holding his shorts up and the other with a bat in it. A lot of older people would be bowling at him – something I did in the past. He is a bit more powerful than I was at his age. He can stand in his crease and toss the spinners over mid-on and off for six. I believe there are great similarities and that is something we smile and talk about whenever we speak.
"The fact that we have a close relationship means he seeks me out if he needs any advice."
Bravo's record is almost keeping pace with Lara. After 25 innings Bravo had 1,206 runs at 52.43, Lara 1,253 at 50.12, though Lara pulled ahead by making 375 in his 26th. After 30, the number Bravo has now played, their respective averages are 49.59 and 56.50.
Lara is convinced that Bravo, who turned 23 in February, can cope with the attention. "He has the potential to go the full way. He has the desire and the mental approach, which is by far more important than the ability, to do so. I am sure he will be a world-class player."
That description already applies to Chanderpaul, once more the world's No 1 batsman. Since Lara retired, Chanderpaul has carried West Indies' batting. And yet Lara clearly thinks he could do more for the team by moving up the order from the comparatively safe haven of No 5.
"It beats me," he said. "I would want to know why. If he can be so consistent, why he wouldn't say, 'Let me bat with some more experienced, talented players up the order'? That's not only going to benefit him but it would help the team.
"Your best batter is going to be at No 3 – he is the one who is going to lay the foundations to win a match. If your best batter is coming in five, repairing damage, I don't understand the logic in it.
"If I was going to be a little critical of the line-up at the moment it would be that the top four lack experience. I would like to see Chanderpaul or Marlon Samuels – two guys who have 10 years of experience – maybe jump up to No 3."
West Indies' coach, Ottis Gibson, said yesterday that Chanderpaul would bat at five but would move up if it was in the team's best interests. But all of this hardly matters while the game in the Caribbean is administered with board and players too often at each other's throats.
"Of course it is not a happy situation but that's been the case for 20-something years," said Lara. "Even when I started we had friction between the board and the players. Unfortunately, we are still in that situation and the squad is light of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine. They are all in the Indian Premier League."
Lara has virtually been frozen out of West Indian cricket. "The WICB have their way of doing things," he said. "At any point in time, though, my phone number is available to all those young players."
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