Cricket: Lara takes off in tour cash row

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The Independent Online
AS FAR as embarrassment goes, it could hardly be worse. The West Indies arrive for their historic first official tour of South Africa today without their two most important figures - the captain, Brian Lara, and his deputy, Carl Hooper - plus seven other players.

When the remaining seven West Indian players, accompanied by manager Clive Lloyd and coach Malcolm Marshall, touch down in Johannesburg, Lara and his cohorts will be in London talking money with the West Indies Cricket Board.

The players are unhappy about payments, even though the WICB president, Pat Rousseau, said fees for the tour had been agreed with the players' union, the West Indies Players' Association. Rousseau said the players' action was "therefore particularly surprising".

However, Roland Holder, the secretary of the Players' Association, said the two sides were still negotiating over fees. Holder understood that none of the players planned to pull out of the tour and that the association had sought permission for them to go to London for the emergency meeting.

A WICB statement said: "The captain of the West Indies, Brian Lara, and vice-captain, Carl Hooper, have not gone on to South Africa from Bangladesh as planned. They have voiced concern over the fees for the tour and have instead gone to England."

As the West Indies management wrestled with a public relations disaster, the South Africans attempted to put on a brave face. "Obviously we would like to have Brian Lara lead the West Indies, but even if he doesn't come they have an exciting team full of talented players," Ali Bacher, the managing director of the United Cricket Board, said. "Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the matter will be sorted out."

Lara, the world record holder for runs in a Test innings (375 v England, St John's, 1994), is no stranger to controversy. The 29-year-old Trinidadian had been fined or warned by the WICB for breaching its code of discipline four times in the three years before he was named captain in January.

In June, Warwickshire fined him pounds 2,000 for arriving too late to lead the county in a crucial Championship match. It was the second time in the season that Lara had been delayed in the Caribbean after missing his flight back to England.

Lara was reported to have spoken enthusiastically about the South Africa tour as recently as Sunday in Dhaka after the West Indies had lost the final of the Wills International Cup by four wickets to South Africa. The captain, who scored 11, was nevertheless pleased with the West Indies' overall performance in the mini World Cup and insisted his team was beginning to gel. They play their first one-day warm-up match in South Africa on 10 November and face a demanding schedule of five Tests and seven one- day internationals.

It will be the first full series between the countries. Lawrence Rowe led two squads of rebels to the Republic during its apartheid- induced isolation from world cricket, while Richie Richardson took charge of the team who played in a triangular limited overs tournament in South Africa in 1992-93.

West Indies won their only previous Test at Bridgetown's Kensington Oval in 1992 when South Africa had been readmitted to international cricket.