Cricket: Captaincy saga affecting Lara's form

The West Indies' captaincy for the England tour of the Caribbean is still unresolved and one of the main candidates, Brain Lara, is feeling the pressure, as Mark Baldwin explains from Sharjah.

Brian Lara is desperate to be West Indies' captain when Mike Atherton's team face them in the Caribbean next month. But should the West Indians beat England's one-day specialists in the Champions Trophy final on Friday, the present skipper Courtney Walsh might get a stay of execution.

Walsh looked certain to be sacked following the 3-0 Test whitewash by Pakistan, yet the West Indies have bounced back in Sharjah and beating Adam Hollioake's side would enable them to go home for Christmas with some pride restored.

That all leaves Lara caught in the middle of a saga that has threatened to tear apart the team once regarded as the world's best. For Lara the last few months especially have been a curious, even tortured, existence.

The West Indies coach, Malcolm Marshall, admitted yesterday that the long debate about the captaincy issue has affected Lara.

The world's most exciting batsman, holder of both Test and first-class record scores, has been struggling for runs as he tries to show the selectors that he is the man to take over the reigns of a team in sharp decline.

Walsh, by contrast, is bowling as well as he has ever done in his life. The 35-year-old Jamaican was the top wicket taker in Pakistan, and in Sharjah has been the most potent new-ball force in the tournament.

Marshall denied that Walsh and Lara did not get on and dismissed reports that they do not even speak.

Lara, though, has been keeping a deliberately low profile during the last 10 days in Sharjah, spending virtually all his leisure time on the golf course away from the team and media glare.

Marshall said: "I don't think Brian's batting problems during the last few weeks have been technical. The whole captaincy issue is affecting him and he has spoken to me about it a couple of times. When you know you are close to becoming captain I think it would affect anybody.

"He is very disappointed with his batting. But he loves to play for the West Indies and there is no way he would not play against England in the Test series if he was not made captain. He is not that sort of person."

Marshall said personal criticism back home in the Caribbean had also hurt Lara, especially for not attending a team sponsors' function when in fact - according to Marshall - he was not due to be involved anyway.

Lara has also struggled, said Marshall, to come to terms with the mental burden of being expected to score more heavily than anyone else every time the West Indies bat.

Hollioake's team had a relaxing day yesterday, only travelling from their Dubai base to the Sharjah Stadium late on for some fielding practice under lights. They plan a full net session tomorrow morning.

Lara, meanwhile, will meet Warwickshire chief executive, Dennis Amiss, to sign his one-year contract for next season during a brief stop-over in London this weekend on his way home from Sharjah. Lara succeeds Tim Munton as captain.

Lara played for Warwickshire in their treble-winning campaign three seasons ago and said: "I can't wait for the opportunity to return to Edgbaston, the scene of such wonderful success for myself and the club in 1994."

Highlights of tomorrow's match will be televised on Grandstand on BBC 1 on Saturday.