The ties that bind

Bryan Davis in Hyderabad tells how Brian Lara banished troubles
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AS Richie Richardson departed the field at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad on Friday, having cut a catch into the slips, the man coming down the steps to meet him and to replace him at the crease was Brian Lara. It was a sight that many had thought they would not see again after a fractious few months during which Lara's row with his skipper had boiled over from the simmering dressing-rooms of England during last summer's tour to a row that exposed publicly the great divides inside the West Indies team.

At one stage it seemed that Lara would only replace Richardson on condition that he became captain and Richardson never played a Test again.

That thought was banished by a performance of grace and power against Zimbabwe that delivered all that the full house of 27,000 had been expecting as Lara reached 43 not out and galvanised his side to a six-wicket victory with 20.3 overs to spare. They had been willing one of the openers to be out ever since the West Indies innings had started, which can hardly have inspired Richardson as he made his way to 32.

Or it may be that nothing could have made him happier. His team had been plagued by absurdly poor performances in the past few months as, without Lara, they played one-day series in Australia - but now they were winners again.

The abject defeats were the product of a team meeting at the Holiday Inn, Manchester, last July when Richardson launched a broadside on Lara after the Trinidadian criticised the lack of discipline in the squad. Lara stormed out, saying "I retire". He returned two days later but the animosity did not go away and Lara was eventually fined, unfairly in his opinion, 10 per cent of his tour fee.

The turning point was a live-in camp in Barbados two weeks ago, to which all the West Indies players were summoned. This was designed to allow personal feuds to be forgotten, at least until the common goal of winning the World Cup was out of the way.

Essentially it was to bring Richardson and Lara together again and to try to weld them into the team as a unifying force. They did everything together: played cricket, listened to lectures, shared rooms in the same hotel and all were under command to the same curfew. There were meetings and lectures on proper nutrition, stress management, psychology and how to use it in sport and, of course, personal relations. They practised running between the wickets and fielding, the two areas in which they are weak as a one-day unit.

Lara admits that it was a tremendous help for settling his mind and feeling good about himself again and his environment. There have not been any complaints, and the left-handed batsman Jimmy Adams says that it was the best thing that has ever happened to the team.

Since arriving in India the week before last they have been practising hard as a team. It is easier to keep them in sighting distance in this country as there are 1,000 distractions.

When doing a commercial for their sponsors on this tour, the United Breweries group, who make Kingfisher, the most popular lager in India, the team assembled around the swimming pool of their hotel. The director hardly had to spur them into action. The laughter and general gaiety that pierced the atmosphere that day was something that the staunchest supporter of the West Indies had not seen for years.

It was the spirit that bound together an uneasy team and fuelled their easy victory over Zimbabwe. It may even take the to an unexpected victory in Lahore on 17 March.

Bryan Davis is a former Glamorgan and West Indies opener.

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