Cricket: W Indies decide to put Lara on trial

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The Independent Online
IN THE latest twist to his turbulent career, Brian Lara has been put on probation as West Indies Test captain. The 29-year-old left-handed batsman, the most controversial and pampered of cricketers, has been grudgingly and conditionally given the captaincy for the first half of forthcoming home series against Australia.

Although berating Lara, as well as manager, Clive Lloyd, and coach, Malcolm Marshall, for their part in the thrashing in the series in South Africa, the West Indies Cricket Board president, Pat Rousseau, announced they would be retained for the first two of the four Tests after which their status would be reviewed.

There was a lobby within the Board to replace Lara, but it was stymied by the absence of any authentic alternative. Neither of the two candidates most frequently mentioned in the run-up to the meeting, the batsman Jimmy Adams and the fast bowler Ian Bishop, are certain of a place in the team while Carl Hooper, even now away in Australia with his wife and recently born son, provided little inspiration in South Africa where he was vice- captain.

Rousseau's previous announcement concerning Lara was at Heathrow Airport in November, having to reinstate him after the WICB had stripped him of the captaincy during the players' strike at London airport that delayed the South African tour.

He now said that the WICB, at an eagerly anticipated all-day meeting in Antigua on Monday, had accepted its selection panel's recommendation to limit Lara's tenure in the series. But he made it plain that Lara had been read the riot act. It is not for the first time.

"We have told Mr Lara that he needs to make significant improvements in his leadership skills," Rousseau said at a press conference, beamed live on radio and television across the Caribbean. "We believe he has it in him to fulfil his potential but we are not prepared to wait indefinitely."

According to Rousseau, Lara would have to convince the selectors that he can improved his relationship with his players, his discipline, his punctuality and his relationship with the coach and manager.

It is a tough agenda for someone as set in his ways as Lara. His turbulent career has been marked by high achievement, followed by a decline in recent years and repeated run-ins with the Board.

His 375 against England in Antigua and unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston, both new records made in the space of six weeks between April and June, 1994, elevated him to an international reputation few cricketers have ever known. The resulting fame and fortune turned his life upside down and he has never been the same player - or the same man - since.

While his Test average has slipped from to just under 50 and he has not scored a hundred for 13 Tests, his disciplinary record has become longer than any other West Indian.

Yet he has been groomed for captaincy since he was a teenager and the selectors first put him forward prior to the 1997 tour of Pakistan. But the WICB balked, rejected the recommendation and retained Courtney Walsh.

Lara was finally appointed prior to the England home series last year, following the West Indies' 3-0 drubbing in the Tests in Pakistan under Walsh. Triumph over England represented a confident and encouraging start, but the South African debacle revealed weaknesses in his leadership and were evident during his stint as Warwickshire captain last year when he was fined pounds 2,000 for returning too late from Trinidad to play in a Sunday match.