Cricket: West Indies opt for Lara's leadership against England

Brian Lara, one of the most celebrated and controversial characters in international cricket, was named yesterday as captain of the West Indies for the series against England.

Craig Cozier reports from Bridgetown, Barbados.

Brian Lara was named West Indies' captain yesterday for the five Tests and five one-day internationals against England, starting 29 January. He acknowledged he was stepping into a role that is far from easy.

"It's a great honour, but it's a very tricky seat to be in at this moment in West Indies cricket," Lara said. "It is a challenging and exciting role. I'm looking forward to great things from myself and from my players."

The 28-year-old record-breaking batsman replaces Courtney Walsh, the fast bowler who led the West Indies in 17 Tests after succeeding Richie Richardson following the 1996 World Cup. The decision represented an about- turn by the West Indies Cricket Board, who rejected the selectors' nomination of Lara as captain for the tours of Pakistan and Sharjah in November and December, retaining Walsh instead.

Support for Lara has been growing since the West Indies were soundly beaten in all three Tests in Pakistan under Walsh, a 36-year-old veteran of 96 Tests. It was the first time the West Indies had lost every match of a Test series since 1928 in England. They also lost three one-day internationals to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa in the Golden Jubilee tournament in Pakistan and were defeated by England in the final of the Champions' Trophy in Sharjah.

Lara has been Walsh's deputy for the past four series against Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. When an injured Walsh missed the Barbados match against India last March, Lara led the West Indies to victory in his only Test as captain.

A stylish, stroke-playing left-hander, Lara holds the world records for both Test and first-class innings and is regarded as one of the finest batsmen of his time. He has scored 10 centuries in amassing 4,133 runs at an average of 51.66 in his 48 Tests.

His 375 against England in the fifth Test in Antigua in 1994 eclipsed the record of 365 not out set by another West Indian left-hander, Sir Gary Sobers. Lara followed that six weeks later with an unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham in the County Championship.

Lara has been groomed for the captaincy since he was a teenager. He led the West Indies team to the first youth World Cup in Australia in 1988, was made the youngest captain of his native Trinidad and Tobago at 20 and led the West Indies A team to Zimbabwe at 21. He will return to Warwickshire in the summer as captain for the first time.

Lara's poor disciplinary record has probably delayed his promotion to Test captaincy. He has been fined or warned for disciplinary reasons four times in the past three years. Once he reportedly said he would retire at a stormy team meeting during the 1995 tour of England after a clash with his captain, Richardson. He was persuaded to change his mind, but was fined 10 per cent of his fee.

His most recent transgression came during the home series against Sri Lanka last June when he was fined for reporting late prior to the first Test.

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