Cricket: Tourists turn to diplomacy

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The Independent Online
BRIAN LARA, the reinstated captain of the troubled West Indies team, apologised after arriving in Johannesburg yesterday for missing the first match of their historic South African tour because of a pay dispute.

However, Lara refused to discuss the settlement reached in London on Monday that persuaded them to travel to South Africa. The matter was "totally confidential," he said.

"The team is here to win the Test series and the whole team, apart from Jimmy Adams, is fit," Lara added. Adams, it transpired, had cut a finger on his right hand with a bread knife while trying to slice a bread roll on the flight from London.

The team arrived yesterday morning in South Africa without the fast bowlers Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, who apparently arrived late at Heathrow airport for their flight. The rest of the squad left London on Monday evening after a settlement ended the revolt over pay. Their opening match is scheduled for today in Soweto, against a Gauteng provincial XI. The first Test begins on 26 November in Johannesburg.

The late arrival caused the team to miss yesterday's exhibition match in Randjesfontein, near Johannesburg. Lara said the team wanted to apologise. "They're pretty sorry at this time for any offence," he said. "We also want to thank President Mandela for the letter he sent to us in London during the discussions. Everyone on the team respects President Mandela tremendously, and the gesture was deeply appreciated."

Mandela had urged that the cricketers to resolve their differences - the president sees sport as a means of achieving racial unity. This tour is the first by the West Indies since the fall of apartheid in South Africa.

Before the settlement was agreed, the West Indies Cricket Board agreed to recognise the role of the players' union, review player insurance coverage and the grievance and disciplinary code, and work toward a joint marketing programme that would allow players a share in revenue.

The West Indies tour manager, Clive Lloyd, described the dispute as a "little lull in their careers," referring to Lara and Carl Hooper, the vice-captain who, along with Lara, was sacked and then reinstated. "But they are professional people and know what's expected of them," Lloyd added.

The former South African wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, who now represents the 21 players contracted to the United Cricket Board of South Africa, said that the row could prompt the formation of an international body aimed at looking after players' interests.

"I don't think we can go as far as to have standardised contracts for tours," Richardson said, "but guidelines and basic necessities ought to be established."