Doubt over Lara's future as he misses tour

Tony Cozier reports from Bridgetown, Barbados on a missing maestro
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The Independent Online
Brian Lara's immediate, and even long-term, future in the game he has graced with the brilliance of his left-handed batting was thrown into doubt yesterday by his sudden, unsanctioned withdrawal from the West Indies team that departed Sunday for a tour of Australia.

The West Indies Cricket Board of Control did not give the reasons Lara listed in a letter received last Friday, but said it did not consider they merited his release.

Lara stuck by his decision even after the WICBC's president, Peter Short, met him in Port-of-Spain over the weekend to try to persuade him, according to the WICBC statement, "that his participation was in his own interest and that of West Indies cricket."

Coming as it does a week after he and Warwickshire mutually agreed to scrap a three-year contract he had signed earlier this year, it prompts understandable speculation that the 26-year-old Trinidadian has become disenchanted with constant cricket and with the commercial demands he has had to contend with since breaking the records for the highest individual score in both Test and first-class cricket in the space of six weeks in 1994.

The catalyst for his latest action came on Thursday when he and three team-mates - Curtley Ambrose, Kenneth Benjamin and Carl Hooper - appeared before the WICBC disciplinary committee and were fined 10 per cent of their fees for various indiscretions on last summer's tour of England. Lara was charged with being absent without leave, but was said to have tendered an apology and reaffirmed his commitment to West Indies cricket.

After the sentence was announced, Lara told a Trinidad newspaper he was "finding it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that the management of the tour looked at me as one of the guys who tried to create disharmony in the camp."

It was an issue, Short said, that was prominent in his weekend discussions.

"Brian is a very sensitive young man and he believes his reputation was diminished by the adverse publicity surrounding the disciplinary charges with newspapers lumping him together with the others as 'the Gang of Four' and 'rebels' ".

According to Short , Lara had indeed had personality conflicts with a few members of the team.

Apart from carrying the West Indies batting with his rapid high scoring, Lara has been groomed as a future captain by the WICBC since he was a teenager. But his problems in England and his latest action surely mitigate against him in this regard.

He led the West Indies under-19s to the Youth World Cup in Australia in 1989 and the West Indies B to Zimbabwe in 1990 as the youngest member of the team at 20. The following season he became Trinidad and Tobago's youngest captain and was deputy to Courtney Walsh when he passed Sir Garry Sobers' Test record with his 375 against England in Antigua in April 1994.

His exploits have made him one of the wealthiest cricketers in the world, and certainly the wealthiest in the West Indies, but Short said he was convinced money was not an issue in Lara's decision.

"I know he may well be tired from the amount of cricket he has played, but I tried to impress on him the importance of the tour of Australia, which will be followed by the World Cup, and pointed out that he would then have a break of at least six months before the full Test tour of Australia in 1996-97," Short said. "I can't say at present what his decision will mean for his future, but the WICBC will surely have to consider the matter."

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