As the West Indies gained a day's respite in their quest to stave off another loss to England, support for the embattled captain, Brian Lara, and sharp condemnation of those calling for his replacement have come from his native Trinidad and Tobago.
It is an issue, like no other, that continues to emphasise the passion the game still evokes among West Indians and its capacity to emotionally divide opinion.
Anthony Garcia, principal of the eminent Fatima College in Port of Spain, Lara's old school, has gone so far as to accuse the former West Indies players Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Ian Bishop, as well as your correspondent, of joining, "by the inventors of the game, assisted by their cronies", in a conspiracy to bring down Lara. Sir Viv Richards, the former captain and chairman of selectors, is another who has voiced his opinion that Lara should step down. But he escaped Garcia's anger.
In a letter to the press, Garcia charged that there is "a concerted effort by some umpires, commentators and writers ... to keep Lara away from the wicket". He claimed that of Lara's last 10 dismissals in Tests, seven have been "dubious, to say the least".
"To top it all off, some of our own Caribbean writers have fallen into the trap set by others to join the tirade against Lara," he said, naming Holding and Croft, and singling out Bishop, a Trinidadian, for special censure. "This last is especially reminiscent of the plantation system where the plantation owner used some of his stronger chattel to keep his other slaves in check," he added.
A statement from the team last week, issued by manager Tony Howard, that fully backed Lara was followed by another from the President of Trinidad and Tobago, George Maxwell Richards.
In a personal letter to Lara, Richards told the captain he had "the utmost confidence in [his] leadership of the West Indies team." He added: "Yours is not an easy task, nor is it one to be envied. I am sanguine, however, that you possess the focus, the sense of responsibility and the surpassing commitment to West Indian cohesiveness and history that must fuel your tenacity. You are the man in the arena and, if you persevere, this will enable you to lead the West Indies cricket team back to a place of pre-eminence in the world."
Such reaction is not new, although it is more fervent in Lara's case. He is regarded almost as a deity in Trinidad and Tobago where he was presented with a prime spot of land, overlooking Port of Spain, accorded the country's highest national honour and had a promenade named after him when he first set the world Test record 375 against England in Antigua in 1994.
More gifts and accolades followed when he trumped it with his unbeaten 400, against the same opponents at the same venue, last April. Yet when he replaced Courtney Walsh as captain in 1998 and Carl Hooper last year, there was an irate backlash from Jamaica, Walsh's birthplace, and Guyana, Hooper's.
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