Lara plays the senior statesman

Tony Cozier looks at a hero's role in the turbulent arena of West Indian cricket
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The Independent Online
BRIAN LARA has been sounding like a future prime minister recently, making all the running in his disagreement with the authorities that has left West Indies cricket in a state of disarray. And while he stayed at home to put his side of the story, the tourists stumbled to probable defeat against New South Wales in the first match of their tour to Australia.

The acting captain Courtney Walsh limped off after straining an ankle on a miserable day for his side, who were dismissed for 159 in their second innings. The former Australian Test spinner Greg Matthews took five for 43, leaving the hosts with 90 runs for victory on the fourth and final day. Back home, Lara was originally cast as a prima donna after he belatedly opted out of the tour, but he is emerging with the image of a saviour striving to erase indiscipline within the team and shake an ineffective board out of its lethargy.

Already assured of the support of fellow Trinidadians, he has gained increasing understanding in most of the other territories. And the month- old coalition government with its two-seat majority in Trinidad & Tobago, where he is uncrowned king, has recognised the advantage of being by his side.

At first he was said simply to be reacting petulantly to a fine by the West Indies Board of 10 per cent of his fee for deserting the team during last summer's tour of England. But after meeting the country's sports minister, Pam Nicholson, he said: "It's not only my cause. A lot of questions are flying around about the future of West Indies cricket, and I see my issue as very small in the entire scenario.''

It has emerged that Lara's temporary flight from England was prompted by his exasperation with the boorish behaviour and lack of commitment of some players. He felt it had undermined the team and was going unchecked. He spoke out after the Old Trafford Test and told the manager Wes Hall: "I can't stay in that kind of atmosphere.''

Persuaded back by the Board president Peter Short, he felt the issue had been settled, and was taken aback when he was fined two days before the team left for Australia. Curtley Ambrose, Kenny Benjamin and Carl Hooper were docked identical sums for other offences.

Short has summoned a special meeting of the Board next Friday which he hopes will "bring this matter to a happy ending''. Acknowledging that Lara "might justifiably have felt it was the end of the matter'' after their decisive meeting in England, Short's position has become untenable. He will need all his diplomatic skills on Friday.

In an organisation comprising two representatives from each of the six member territories - Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, the Leeward Islands, Trinidad & Tobago and the Windward Islands - his job will not be easy.

While the Trinidad & Tobago Board has stated that it sympathises with Lara's "current anguish'' and views his decision as a manifestation of the turbulence now visiting West Indies cricket'', Clarvis Joseph, president of the Leeward Islands Association under whose aegis Ambrose and Benjamin play, has a different view. "I don't think that anybody functioning in a team can simply decide they are going to pack their bags,'' he said. "That is the height of indiscipline.''

While hardly a whisper of criticism is heard in Trinidad, Joseph said: "The first thing I get when I walk the streets in Antigua is, 'I hope you guys aren't going to pick Lara again.' There is tremendous public resentment, and I hear there is in Jamaica as well.'' Meanwhile, the career of the most exciting batsman of his time, arguably of all time, hangs in the balance.