Troubled Lara to miss England tour

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The Independent Online

Brian Lara will not be in the West Indies team for their forthcoming tour of England, which will be announced here today.

The left-handed master batsman, who resigned the captaincy in February and missed the home series against Zimbabwe and Pakistan to take a self-imposed break from the game, advised the West Indies Cricket Board of his unavailability on Tuesday.

Lara underwent psychiatric counselling at a New Jersey clinic last month and the evaluation has reportedly advised him not to return to international cricket until he can find the necessary motivation.

He cited what he termed "the moderate success and devastating failure that has engulfed West Indies cricket" during his two years at the helm as his reason for resigning the captaincy following the tour of New Zealand in December and January, when the West Indies lost both Tests and all five one-day internationals.

A week later, he announced he was taking a short break during which he would "use the time away to seek the assistance of appropriate professionals to rebuild all facets of my game so as to sustain the remainder of my cricketing career".

But he spoke enthusiastically of "building myself up" and looking forward to the tour of England. It proved an unrealistic expectation.

His continuing absence is a devastating blow to a West Indies team in which he was the one batsman of genuine quality. The tourists will include five of eight specialist batsmen with less than 10 Tests each.

Above all, his decision raises justifiable doubts over his future in a game in which he holds the record individual score for Tests, with 375 against England in Antigua in 1994, and first-class cricket, with an unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston six weeks later. He is now at an age at which a batsman with 65 Tests and 5,573 runs at an average 51.60 would expect to be at his peak. Instead, Lara has clearly lost his desire for the game that has been the centre of his existence since he was a boy.

After England, the West Indies next tour is to Australia, starting in November, and he will have no opportunity for meaningful cricket between now and then.

Lara has spent much of his time off relaxing in his native Trinidad with family and friends and playing golf. He was in England for a charity engagement last month and celebrated his 31st birthday on 2 May in Barbados with his fellow Trinidadian and close friend Dwight Yorke, the Manchester United striker.

He has struggled to come to terms with the fame and fortune that have come his way since his phenomenal exploits five years ago. As far back as the West Indies' last tour of England in 1995, he abandoned the team, announcing his retirement and complaining that cricket was "ruining" his life.

He was influenced into rejoining the tour by then-WICB president, Peter Short, and reeled off hundreds in each of the last three Tests. But he pulled out of touring Australia later that year, two days before the team's departure.

He replaced Courtney Walsh as captain prior to the series against England in the Caribbean in 1998, which the West Indies won 3-1 in the Tests and 4-1 in the one-day internationals. But he was involved in the infamous players' strike, at London's Heathrow airport prior to the tour of South Africa later that year, that was a prelude to a 5-0 thrashing in the Test series.

He virtually single-handedly earned a 2-2 series draw against Australia in the Caribbean last year with unforgettable innings of 213 in Kingston and 153 not out in Bridgetown. But the reversal in New Zealand and what the then-manager, Clive Lloyd, claimed was a lack of support from the WICB, took their toll.

Lara is yet to recover. Only time will tell if he ever will.