Cricket: Lara has faith in S Africa tour

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The Independent Online
THE SACKED West Indies captain, Brian Lara, said yesterday he believed the crisis-hit tour of South Africa would take place.

Lara and his vice-captain, Carl Hooper, were sacked on Wednesday after a pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board - a move which has now thrown the entire trip to South Africa into doubt. Seven other players who have stayed in London with Lara and Hooper have been fined by the board, while the remaining seven players were last night flying to London to join the rest of the squad.

They will be accompanied by Ali Bacher, the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, and the West Indies' tour manager, Clive Lloyd, who will hold crisis talks today aimed at saving the Test series.

Lara is hopeful a compromise can be reached. He said: "What has resulted so far is a bit unfortunate and I hope it can be resolved in the near future. The main thing is that the West Indies' tour to South Africa should be on.

"The people want the tour to be on, and hopefully something positive will come out of it. I am not a member of the West Indies cricket team at the moment, but I would love to be there. This situation is very unfortunate."

Lloyd and Bacher will be holding talks with Courtney Walsh, who is a leading light in the West Indies Players' Association, but Lara hinted that divisions over pay may only be solved at board level, saying: "It is not up to Clive Lloyd. It is out of his hands."

Bacher said he was hopeful that a solution could be found by the weekend after meeting with the seven players who arrived in South Africa on Wednesday. "The players want the tour to go ahead," he said.

The tour was due to begin with a one-day match against Nicky Oppenheimer's XI near Johannesburg next Tuesday, with the first Test scheduled to start on 26 November.

Lara appears to have the support of most of his team-mates, with the West Indies Players' Association secretary, Roland Holder, insisting his members are right behind the former captain.

A joint statement from the two cricket boards read: "We have all agreed that this tour must take place in the interests of South African, West Indian and world cricket, and that the tour would greatly enhance the reconciliation process in South Africa."

Earlier, Bacher had confirmed that the five-match tour, due to end in February, was in serious jeopardy. "I can't lie to anybody. The situation is very serious and there has been a move by the players to return home tonight," he said.

"The players and the WICB have reached an impasse. We are hoping that goodwill will ultimately prevail."

The former West Indies opener, Conrad Hunte, has called on both players and officials to compromise over the pay dispute.

Hunte, who has just completed a seven-year contract as national development coach for the South Africa board, said: "The players need to take into consideration that the [West Indies] board lost its sponsorship a few months ago and has been beset by financial difficulties.

"But I would also encourage the board to make concessions since so much is at stake for both countries. The build-up to this tour has been phenomenal and all the youngsters in the townships have been looking forward to it tremendously."

The West Indies are supposed to be making their first official Test tour to South Africa since apartheid ended, and Hunte said it would do wonders for the development of the sport among blacks in South Africa.

There was reaction to the affair from Lara's English county. Warwickshire's chief executive, Dennis Amiss, warned Lara that he was putting his playing future at risk - Lara also is captain of Warwickshire - while the county's former stalwart Jack Bannister, now a journalist, suggested Lara maybe "thinks he has become bigger than the game."

"As a cricketing superstar, he's unique, and I'm afraid he has become almost a law unto himself," Bannister said.

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