Lara row shows perils of cricket's warped priorities

Surely nothing in all of sport is so dispiriting as the current contract wrangle in the West Indies over the sponsorship status of the world's greatest batsman, Brian Lara.

Surely nothing in all of sport is so dispiriting as the current contract wrangle in the West Indies over the sponsorship status of the world's greatest batsman, Brian Lara.

Before negotiations yesterday between two phone companies, the possibility was that Lara, and six of his most talented compatriots, including the batsmen Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle, would be missing from the start of the forthcoming series against South Africa. There were also severe doubts about the credibility of the West Indians as hosts for the World Cup of 2007.

Over recent years the decline of West Indian cricket has been tragic - and no less troubling has been the fact that Lara has often looked like he was batting from memory. A decade ago Lara travelled home with his mentor, Sir Viv Richards, after smashing another record while playing for Warwickshire against Durham. There were to be celebrations in his native Port of Spain. Lara was asleep before the plane took off. Richards worried that the greatest talent he had ever seen was already in danger of burn-out.

Cricket's insane pursuit of every dollar, its relentless programming of its best talent, reached a new low in Grenada this week when a bunch of businessmen became the arbiters of whether Lara would play Test cricket for West Indies. A critic of boxing once said that the sport was guilty of "gouging the cantaloupe until you can hear the pips squeak". Ditto cricket.

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