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Lara Can Keep Going But Without Captaincy

Brian Lara (Photo: Shiek Mohamed)

By Orin Davidson
Although most of the attention is focused on two great Australian players, Brian Lara still manages to make the news

Even as the recently announced retirements of Shane Warne and Glen McGrath continue to create serious speculation on the future strength of Australian, the talk somehow veers off in Lara’s direction.

Both Warne and McGrath rate the West Indies captain the most difficult batsman they encountered while reflecting on their careers before the international media this week.

And who can deny the triple world record holder.

Lara deserves most of the plaudits showered on him these last 12 months which coincides with his fourth world record set in 16 years.

And he could not have chosen a better time and place for his current business/holiday as he puts it, Down Under.

It might or may not be a coincidence he is on spot in Australia during the most hyped Test series in recent times. But as has been predicted in these columns, the Ashes clash is unfolding as one of the most one-sided of all, between Australia and England.

Nevertheless, even as England is crashing to only the second Ashes whitewash ever, after their 1921 hammering, Lara is one of the many superstars whose experiences are being sought in remembrance of Warne and McGrath.

Yet he will soon find him self in the hot-seat for another career defining decision, like all the others on the wrong side of 30 years.

So far the West Indies captain had to make two major ones in 2006 and will have another to ponder on early in 2007.

Agreeing to re-accept the captaincy prior to the Zimbabwe series this year caused him lots of soul searching, prompted by the wishes of new West Indies Cricket Board president Ken Gordon.

After the just concluded Pakistan series, Lara made it clear he is not about to retire from Tests anytime soon while promising that the World Cup will be his swansong in limited overs competition.

By the time the final run is scored and the last presentation speech made at Kensington Oval on April 28 2007, Lara will have a huge weight in his lap, whether West Indies wins or goes out in the first round.

The captaincy of the team will be foremost on his mind as well as those of every director on the West Indies Cricket Board.

If Lara’s Test career will continue indefinitely then surely his hold on the top position cannot be treated likewise.

Not that his presence on the team would be unwarranted.

Any squad around the world worth its salt would welcome Lara with open arms for its batting lineup, regardless of his ability or inability to produce in match winning situations.

He is a run machine and can contribute to any victory indirectly all the time.

The words of Warne, McGrath and Mutthia Muralitharan who also rates Lara his number one foe, bears credence to his batsmanship.

But not many of those teams would make Lara their captain.

Which is why he should also make the World Cup his swansong as West Indies captain.

None of the world’s great batting geniuses before or after him made outstanding captains. And Lara is no exception. Sobers, Richards and Tendulkar were not great leaders. Bradman had a short stint and although he was unbeaten in the four series he led Australia, it was not enough to prove his pedigree as captain.

Articulate he may be, suave he may be, but tactically and motivationally, Lara is not.

His record speaks for itself.

Three stints at the helm produced more Test and series losses than winners and a number of whitewashes in the mix.

Of course he never had a team of hardened professionals like Lloyd and Richards had, but in reality his players never improved their amateurism under his long watch.

Not surprisingly, it is not unusual to observe differences in the performances of the team when Lara is not at the helm.

By now it ought not be a brain teaser anymore to understand why the players seem more motivated when he is not around.

The upcoming, West Indies Cricket Board Carib Cup and KFC Cup competitions would’ve given vice captain Ramnaresh Sarwan the best litmus test as captain.

He hinted at some measure of ability in leading Guyana to a title triumph in the Sanford 20/20 series and was impressive in captaining West Indies to victory over Australia in the Champions Trophy first round.

Yet there is no better yardstick to measure his full capabilities than consistency. And Sarwan would not be tested any better than in a full season at the helm.

His foot injury presently might not allow him that opportunity now.

So far Lara has never made the captaincy the object of his desire in public settings.

He always talks about the team’s goals before anything personal, but it would be nice if he acknowledges the squad is going nowhere under his leadership in Tests.

The 2-0 loss out of three matches, at the hands of Pakistan was particularly hurtful. It was a reminder they are nowhere closer to improvement than they were when the decline started in 1995.

At this stage, Lara would have greater peace of mind concentrating solely on his batting. He is a master at accumulating individual feats and is proving himself the best ever Over-35 year old batsman in the world.

His main rival Tendulkar is a far cry from the scoring sensation he was before his injury- plagued year in 2005. And he is only 33.

And despite Ricky Ponting’s current blitz, time will tell whether the Australian captain could maintain that momentum five years down the road at 37.

Yet deep down Lara knows a West Indies re-emergence at the top will be more satisfying even if Ponting fails to overcome his record Test runs or centuries tally, that will soon give him his fourth standing world record.

But he will first have to make his captaincy duties history.
Orin Davidson Column Homepage

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