Cricket: Impasse remains as tour talks fail

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The Independent Online
THE FATE of the West Indies' tour of South Africa, which is due to start tomorrow, remained unresolved last night after negotiations in London between officials and players over pay and conditions failed to produce an agreement.

Courtney Walsh, the president of the West Indies Players' Association, emerged after seven and a half hours of talks at a hotel near Heathrow airport to announce that further efforts to end the impasse that is threatening to wipe out the historic three-month tour would resume this morning.

"Negotiations are still going on," Walsh said. "We will be having further meetings tonight and tomorrow morning. I'm going back to my hotel to talk to the rest of the players."

The statement ended an extraordinary day which began with the West Indies Cricket Board president, Pat Rousseau, arriving from Barbados before going straight into a meeting with Walsh, Jimmy Adams and the two men he sacked from the tour - captain Brian Lara and his deputy Carl Hooper.

The players are insistent that the two batsmen must be reinstated for the five-Test tour, but Rousseau has previously been adamant that no compromise is possible.

It emerged from Lara's agent, Barrie Gill, that a leading firm of City solicitors had been brought in on Friday to try to help break the deadlock. "We brought Collyer-Bristow in to advise the players," Gill said. "We still hope the players will be on the plane tomorrow."

Ali Bacher, the senior official in South African cricket who flew to London on Friday, said: "I remain optimistic. The negotiations are taking longer than I would have liked, but I'm sure things will be resolved. The West Indian Board have conveyed the sticking points to me, but it's not for me to comment."

The saga took another twist when it was revealed that a sponsor had been found for the cash-strapped tourists which would apparently help meet the players' demands for better pay and conditions.

A deal has been struck by the former South African wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, who now runs a Johannesburg-based sports marketing company. Richardson, who had been appointed by the WICB to help raise sponsorship long before the dispute began, stressed that the deal had nothing to do with the United Cricket Board of South Africa. However, he strongly hinted that Lara and Hooper were vital to the deal and would have to be reinstated.

There was more pressure for their inclusion from national broadcaster SABC television. "We won't put up with anything less than a full-strength side," the station's head of sport, Edward Griffiths, said. "We owe it to our sponsors, viewers and advertisers."

The dispute, which has threatened West Indies' first official Test tour of South Africa since apartheid ended, began when Lara and Hooper refused to travel to Johannesburg from the West Indies' previous assignment in the Wills International Cup in Bangladesh.

The pair instead flew to London and the row escalated when other members of the team in transit to South Africa arrived at Heathrow. They were later joined by the remainder of the 16-strong tour party who had already flown from Dhaka to Johannesburg.

Lara's stand has made him a hero in his home island of Trinidad, where a huge blackboard has been erected in the heart of Port-of-Spain, the country's capital. Dozens of people have signed it to show "100 percent support for Lara and his men".