Lara captaincy threatened in search for fresh impetus

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The Independent Online

As if there wasn't enough on his plate already, Brian Lara yesterday had an unwelcome reminder of the curious workings of the West Indies Cricket Board on the eve of the third Test.

He awoke to find that he had not been confirmed as captain of the West Indies team for next month's Champions Trophy, even though, as such, he took part in its selection.

Lara's captaincy has been widely criticised, not least by eminent former players like Sir Viv Richards and Michael Holding. He has had no more success in his second term than in his first, which led to his resignation in 2000 after what he described as "two years of modest success and devastating failure".

The West Indies have suffered more defeats under his leadership than any one else (19 in 36 Tests). But the selection panel obviously believe it would be unnecessarily disruptive to remove him for a tournament confined to two limited overs matches at the least, four at the most. Some members of the board, which has the right to overrule the selectors on captaincy, did not agree and called for an overall vote.

The West Indies' next international engagement after the Champions Trophy, which ends in late September, is not until the triangular one-day series in Australia in January. Their next Test series after this one is in April, at home to South Africa.

It is ample time to put in place planned changes in team management, get the leading players under full-time contracts for the first time, employ a more assertive coach and arrange leadership training for a new captain, probably Lara's deputy, Ramnaresh Sarwan.

What yesterday's presentation of a team without a captain means is that the West Indies will follow a leader at Old Trafford this morning who everyone knows does not have the confidence of some of his employers.

Yet Lara has been there before and the challenge has somehow energised him to phenomenal personal feats, which, in turn, have revived his team's broken spirit. A year into his first term at the helm, in 1999, Lara returned from a morale-crushing 5-0 whitewash in the West Indies' first Test series in South Africa to be upbraided by the board and placed on probation for the first two Tests of the home series against Australia.

Lara's rejoinder was two of the finest innings ever by a West Indian batsman. His 213 at Sabina Park and 153 unbeaten at Kensington Oval led the West Indies to two unlikely victories and a share of the series.

A year into his second tenure, the humiliating spectre of the first whitewash in a home series loomed after defeat in the first three Tests against England last April. This time the answer was even more emphatic than five years earlier.

His unbeaten 400 in the final Test in St John's was not enough for victory, but, in two days, it crushed the notion of a whitewash and brought a smile back to West Indies cricket.

The smile has once more turned to a frown this past month and another whitewash seems certain. The mix is right for some more Lara magic.