Destroying a myth

Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
February 27, 2000

Regarded as the biggest West Indies cricketing superstar in the current era, Brian Lara has been looked upon as the greatest messiah for Trinidad and West Indies cricket.

His superlative batting feats had lifted him into a sphere of his own far superior to those his lesser West Indies team mates have aspired to.

Because of his ability it was felt by many including the great man himself that everything he touched cricket related, could turn to gold.

But his unexpected departure as captain of West Indies has proved otherwise and should be an eye opener to many regional administrators. More significantly though, Lara's move has eliminated one of the most unfortunate myths in West Indies cricket and the world at large.

In his letter to the West Indies Cricket Board, declining consideration for the captaincy before the upcoming Zimbabwe and Pakistan series Lara stated. " After accepting the captaincy at the beginning of the 1998 season I immediately set high but attainable goals for the West Indies team and myself. After two years the moderate success and devastating failure that has engulfed West Indies cricket has brought me to the realisation that there is a need for me to withdraw from my present leadership position."

It was a sad admission of failure from a man who only less than one year ago had the world at his feet with possibly the greatest string of successive batting performances. His three back to back centuries including that superlative Sabina Park double, against Australia last year, was more proof of his genius with the bat.

But unfortunately that success could not have been transferred to the captaincy and it has led to his unexpected and abrupt end to a short stint at the helm.

It has forcefully driven home to our administrators that the best batsman or bowler in a team must not automatically be made the captain.

This unfortunate misconception is one of the oldest weaknesses in the sport and while some countries have recently discovered it and have overcome the practice, others including West Indies, sadly are yet to grasp its folly.

In the times of yore when cricket was a mere recreational activity, it was proper to bestow the captaincy on the best player in the team, but in this age of professionalism, when winning is the primary objective for teams, you are more likely to suffer the agony of failure rather than bask in success, indulging in the practice.

It means that a batting average of 50 per innings or a bowling statistic of 15 runs per wicket, should not automatically qualify a player as captain.

But the practice is prevalent to this day in regional competition and outside. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the best batsman in Guyana is the national captain, the best bowler in Jamaica Courtney Walsh, before he declined it, was captain and similarly Lara himself has been captain of Trinidad for almost 10 years.

Sachin Tendulkar, by far the best batsman in India and arguably in the world, will soon vacate his team's captaincy for the second time as will be Pakistan's most valuable player Wasim Akram.

The timing of Lara's decision, has created much speculation about the factors behind his decision to step down.

Whether the poor team performances alone or other factors also contributed is brought into question when it is taken into account that the New Zealand tour ended more than a month ago. One would have thought it proper for him to announce his resignation immediately on his return in similar manner to Tendulkar's and Akram's announcements, which were made soon after poor results in Australia.

Whether of not other influences existed, the WICB will have a onerous task in finding a replacement for Lara.

A hard decision will have to be made whether to appoint Jimmy Adams in light of his wretched batting form or thrust the untested Ridley Jacobs or Sherwin Campbell into the deep end. The once sacked Courtney Walsh is also a consideration.

It however, remains only one of the problems the board has to overcome as Antigua is developing into a potential headache following the latest indiscretion exhibited in the island.

The uncalled for attack on the WICB's office in St John's is a disgraceful act which in no way justifies a nation's disappointment in not having a decision their way. In discarding Sir Vivian Richards after only one short series as coach through a process unheard of in world cricket, the WICB has angered Antiguans but their action cannot be condoned in copying the hooliganistic behaviour, so popular in the sports world by fans today.

Regional sports personalities have time and time again suffered disrespect at the hands of Antiguans and Roger Harper's bashing in the media there, through no fault of his own, follows that meted out to ex player Colin Croft and two prominent journalists in recent times.

There is nothing wrong with anyone protesting perceived injustices, but it should not degenerate into public insult and violent tendencies.

Antigua has produced great cricketers, but some elements there are doing their best to erase the country's high esteem it is held in by its sister regional countries, built by the likes of Richards himself and others.