Cricket: Mandela's plea for tour peace

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The Independent Online
NELSON MANDELA yesterday added his weight to increasingly desperate efforts aimed at preventing the disintegration of the West Indies tour to South Africa.

Ali Bacher, the head of South African cricket, flew to London carrying a message from the republic's president to the West Indian players, led by the sacked captain, Brian Lara, who are locked in a pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board.

The first official Test visit by a West Indies squad is viewed as a vital step in attracting blacks to what has always been viewed as a sport mainly for whites.

"I go to England with a message from Nelson Mandela for the team and the West Indies Cricket Board about the importance of this tour, a tour the President hopes will take place," Bacher, said. "This tour is very important for this country. It goes beyond bat and ball. It will help enormously towards the reconciliation process in South Africa and will inspire all the youth of this country."

Lara and his vice-captain, Carl Hooper, were dismissed on Wednesday. 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 were accompanied by Bacher 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. "What has resulted so far is a bit unfortunate and I hope it can be resolved in the near future," he said. "The main thing is that the tour 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.

"My life is playing cricket. I'd love to turn out for the West Indies. Hopefully, things can be sorted out for the betterment of everybody."

Lloyd and Bacher are to meet Courtney Walsh of 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 that he was hopeful that a solution could be found after speaking with the seven players who arrived in South Africa on Wednesday. "The players want the tour to go ahead," he said.

The tour is due to begin with a one-day match in 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 Players' Association secretary, Roland Holder, insisting that his members are backing the former captain.

Earlier, Bacher had confirmed that the five-Test tour, due to end in February, was in serious jeopardy. "I can't lie to anybody. The situation is very serious. 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 players and officials to compromise. 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."

There was reaction to the affair from Lara's English county. Warwickshire's chief executive, Dennis Amiss, warned Lara he was putting his playing future at risk, while the county's former stalwart Jack Bannister said that Lara "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.

England in Australia, page 29