Signs of bad times - Lara in strife and a two-day Test

International cricket was plunged into disarray yesterday. This is such a familiar state that the cries of wolf could be discerned on at least two continents, but there was the suspicion that this time they could be real.

International cricket was plunged into disarray yesterday. This is such a familiar state that the cries of wolf could be discerned on at least two continents, but there was the suspicion that this time they could be real.

Chaos and mutiny were both imminent in the West Indies after the board instructed the selectors not to pick seven players, including the captain, Brian Lara, in a dispute over sponsorship. If this is carried out, the forthcoming Test series against South Africa will be ludicrously one-sided.

South Africa at least will be well acquainted with mismatches, having secured victory against Zimbabwe by an innings and 21 runs inside two days (the 18th two-day Test) while losing only three wickets. Zimbabwe showed slightly more resistance on the second day, but they still went quietly enough to ensure that the clamour for their Test status to be revoked grew correspondingly louder.

Cricket in the West Indies has been heading for a crisis for at least five years. The latest dispute between board and players involves two rival companies. The board recently concluded a four-year sponsorship deal with Digicel, who replaced Cable & Wireless, a rival communications firm. However, Lara and six other players - Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Devon Smith, Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul - have signed individual deals with C & W.

Teddy Griffith, the president of the West Indian board, issued a long statement detailing both the sponsorship dispute and a separate row over pay. The West Indian Players' Association are demanding a total of $722,000 (£375,000) more than the board have offered. The board in turn want the seven players to show them details of their contracts with C & W - excluding financial arrangements - to ensure that no conflicts will arise. The players have refused. It looks likely that Lara and the rest will not be picked, but the prospect looms of a legal challenge.

The board made an early bid for public sympathy by pointing out their offer would put contracted players in the top one per cent of Caribbean wage-earners, and that the Digicel deal would fund the game generally. Players have already been condemned for their attitude on the recent tour of Australia. All the goodwill established by their breathtaking win in the Champions Trophy last September has vanished.

The International Cricket Council will not intervene, but they will have an influence over the Zimbabwean (and possibly Bangladeshi) situation. They have already decided that neither country will lose their Test status, but at the executive meeting in Delhi this month there is now the distinct feeling that something will be done.

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