CRICKET: West Indies' tour set to go ahead

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The Independent Online
A SETTLEMENT appeared to have been reached yesterday evening to allow the West Indies tour of South Africa to go ahead.

Courtney Walsh, head of the West Indies players' association, said the players were packed and ready to board a flight Monday night to South Africa. Walsh said he was expecting an official announcement shortly.

A switchboard operator at the hotel near Heathrow Airport where the West Indies players have been staying said most of the team had already checked out.

The first West Indies tour of South Africa since the end of apartheid has been in danger of being cancelled in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Earlier in the day, the United Cricket Board of South Africa was forced to call off the first match of the tour - Tuesday's warm-up between the West Indies and an amateur 11 in Randjiesfontein, near Johannesburg.

The opening match is now likely to be in Soweto on Wednesday against a Gauteng provincial XI. The opening first-class match of the tour is due to start Saturday against Griqualand and West, with the first Test scheduled for 26 November.

The apparent settlement came after four days of talks involving the West Indies players and officials of the West Indies and South Africa cricket boards. The crisis came to a head last Wednesday when the West Indies Cricket Board fired Brian Lara as captain and Carl Hooper as vice-captain. The two had refused to travel to South Africa, demanding better pay and conditions for the tour. Team members have insisted that Lara and Hooper be reinstated as part of any settlement.

Jimmy Adams, treasurer of the players' association, negotiated on behalf of the players yesterday with Pat Rousseau, president of the West Indies Cricket Board.

Ali Bacher, the managing director of the UCBSA, was also directly involved in yesterday's talks after sitting on the sidelines on Sunday.

The West Indies tour manager, Clive Lloyd, and WICB member, Joel Garner, have also been involved in the talks which began Friday.

Progress was reported over the weekend with the announcement of a sponsorship deal offered by the former South African wicketkeeper David Richardson, who runs a sports marketing firm in Johannesburg.

Earnings from the sponsorship proposal would apparently help meet the players' demands for better pay.

Dr Bacher, Rousseau, and, representing the players, Adams, were locked behind closed doors all day yesterday, attempting to solve the financial impasse.

The significant difference yesterday was the full involvement of Dr Bacher in the talks, perhaps indicating the increasing urgency for a remedy to the problem. In previous days, he has been somewhat on the outside looking in, and on Sunday he had spent seven hours awaiting developments in the hotel lobby.

When the West Indies players did not arrive for a 10.30 meeting yesterday morning, it was clear that there was still much talking to be done. Adams finally reported, with lawyers, at 12.30pm to go into session with Rousseau and Bacher.

Clearly, the reinstatement of Lara and Hooper is of crucial importance, and face-saving was doubtless high on the agenda yesterday.

Lara and Hooper must be reinstated if their tour of South Africa is to receive full television coverage, a leading broadcaster warned.

Edward Griffiths, head of SABC television sports in South Africa, said the presence of the two players was vital for full coverage of the tour. The national broadcaster holds the right to screen world tour matches, and Griffiths said: "We won't put up with anything less than a full strength side. We owe it to our sponsors, viewers and advertisers."

It emerged from Lara's agent, Barrie Gill, that a leading firm of City solicitors had been brought in on Friday to try to help break the deadlock.

England on rack, page 25