Cricket: One captain is enough for Lara

ENGLAND'S grand experiment of having separate captains for Test and one-day chores has not found favour with Brian Lara, the recently appointed West Indies captain. Speaking on the eve of today's second one- day international between the two teams in Bridgetown, Lara felt the division of labour was more likely to hinder a team in achieving their goals than help.

"Cricket is one game, and it wasn't long ago that the West Indies had the best Test and one-day team," Lara said. "You have to find someone to captain both teams otherwise you get conflict and controversy, especially when one is winning and the other is losing.

"With two different captains, England won't do well in both aspects of the game. Those who play in both types of the game will be responding to two different captains."

Mark Taylor, Australia's Test captain, but recently deposed by Steve Waugh as one-day skipper, has been taking a similar line. Taylor is unhappy at some of the dressing-room politicking that has emerged, and feels it is undermining his position. He has even said he is considering resigning the Test leadership.

England's selectors, at least the two former captains among them (i.e. Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting), must have felt likewise when they re-appointed Michael Atherton, particularly in the wake of Adam Hollioake's success in Sharjah.

Although the matter has now been at least temporarily settled by Atherton's resignation, the original decision flew directly in the face of David Graveney's unequivocal suggestion that Hollioake should get the job.

It is a conservatively logical argument, but one only able to hold water if you can find someone appropriate. Unless candidates possess the required leadership qualities as well as the ability to hold their own in both types of game, they need not apply.

Lara, without a hint of mischief in his eyes, is in no doubt who the prime candidate should be. "Alec Stewart is the only guy who has played both Test and one-day cricket consistently well," he said. "I don't know what his leadership qualities are like but, if I had to pick someone, he is the one guy guaranteed a place in both."

To fans of Hollioake's style of captaincy, Lara's suggestions might seem like an attack on the Surrey captain, who has now won all five of his one-day games in charge. In truth, Lara's beliefs are no more than the candid offerings of someone who has himself taken up the reigns of captaincy from a disunited dressing-room. The first manifesto after the coup, if you like.

"Hollioake might yet turn into a Test player and that would be perfect. He needs to become more accustomed to it and that might happen if he can bat at six. Mind you, captaincy shouldn't come that easily."

Like England, the West indies under Lara are building towards the World Cup in 14 months' time. Conscious of the West Indies' poor recent record, Lara reckons he has about 20 matches in which to try a few new faces. There may even be one today, as Ridley Jacobs will come in if Junior Murray fails to recover from his knee injury in time to keep wicket.

England are also waiting on injury, and a decision on Graham Thorpe's sore back will not be made until this morning. If Thorpe proves unfit, his place will be taken by Mark Ramprakash, a decision that could further fuel the single captain debate.

With his rehabilitation almost complete at Test level, a good performance from Ramprakash in the one-day arena could well add a long-term candidate to rank alongside Lara's short-term championing of Stewart.

For the moment, though, Lara will have to halt both Hollioake's and England's undeniable superiority to make his theories stick. Until he does that, the grand experiment will continue.