West Indies captains' barrel quite barren

Says Colin Croft
Stabroek News
February 28, 2000

Hardly was the ink on paper dry enough to confirm Guyanese Roger Harper and Jamaican Jeffrey Dujon as the new Coach and Assistant Coach respectively of the senior West Indies cricket team, that West Indies cricket had an additional, definitely more immediate, problem.

The biggest story yet, even larger than the appointment of the new Coach, was the "abdication" of the captain of the last tour to New Zealand, and captain since 1998, master batsman Brian Charles Lara. Lara informed the West Indies Cricket Board that he would not like to be considered for selection for the post of captain for the upcoming series featuring Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Lara cited poor results as his primary reason for his actions.

It must be noted that Lara could not, and did not, say that he "did not want to be continuing as captain anymore." It would not have been his right to say that, since, in real terms, his most recent appointment ended with the end of the New Zealand tour. If nothing, this guy is very intelligent indeed.

"After accepting the captaincy at the beginning of the 1998 season, I immediately set high but attainable goals for the West Indies cricket team and myself. After two years, the moderate success and devastating failures that have engulfed West Indies cricket have brought me to the realization that there is a need for me to withdraw from my present leadership position. I would prefer that my name not be forwarded as a candidate for the captaincy position for the upcoming series."

This is quite a turnaround for a player who, according to many West Indian cricket supporters, especially in Trinidad & Tobago, was supposed to have been "groomed from an early age to take over the captaincy of the West Indies cricket team and to take West Indies cricket back to greatness." It is no secret that Lara badly wanted to be captain. I doubt that he ever imagined that he would be the failure, for whatever reason, he has become in that capacity. I do not know about you, but we are a very far way away from greatness again.

Many Caribbean people have actually voiced the feeling that it was about time that this happened anyway. Indeed, I actually heard people clap and sing praises to The Almighty in Jamaica when the news of Lara's decision was aired. Many others expected Lara to quit after the drubbing the West Indies took in South Africa two years ago, under Lara's captaincy, especially after the "more money scandal," which nearly caused the cancellation of that historic tour. Lara's toughness and pride did not allow that to occur then.

Lara not only stuck it out as captain then, but managed to play two of the best innings ever seen in Test cricket in the ensuing series against Australia. The last tour of New Zealand, though, in which the West Indies played so incredibly badly that they did not win a single game, and lost the Test series 2-0 and the one-day series, 5-0, must have been a tour too far (as captain) for Lara.

It has already been suggested in the Caribbean that one of the reasons which forced Lara to step aside was the fact that (Sir) Viv was not re-appointed as Coach. Lara had openly said, both in New Zealand and since returning to the Caribbean, that he was in complete agreement with, and had complete solidarity for, the continuing tenure of Viv as Coach of the senior West Indies cricket team.

In New Zealand, Lara and Viv seemed to hit it off well, communicating well with all and sundry, but they simply could not manufacture any success whatsoever, despite their collective greatness. I must admit, though, that at times in New Zealand, while the team was under so much pressure for non-performance, even I had some sympathy for Brian. No-one, not even Brian Lara, as great as some suggest that he is, could bring water from stone.

Lara has surprised me here, though. After 1995, when he suggested, nearly in tears, that "cricket was ruining my life," despite all of the recent, then, successes, and after actually getting the much coveted captaincy position, I thought that "BL" would have stuck it out. I am sure that both he and his advisors would agree that the only way for West Indies cricket, now, is up (We hope!!). Why not hang in there and enjoy the eventual success, which is sure to come eventually, the same way that he had endured the failures.

One can only surmise that perhaps Brian is much more burnt out by the pressures of captaincy and being a premier batsman than we actually know. There is even talk now, sensible talk too, that Lara may not even play in the first Test against Zimbabwe on March 16 in Trinidad & Tobago. If that were to occur, then this is a far more serious situation than just the fact of a guy not wanting to be captain.

Another popular suggestion given for Lara's sudden need for an exit as captain-candidate was that he had been fore-warned that he would not have been confirmed by the West Indies Cricket Board as captain for the upcoming series featuring Zimbabwe and Pakistan. It should be noted, with great interest, that one of Lara's greatest mentors, former West Indies opening batsman, Michael "Joey" Carew, is one of the current selectors of the senior West Indies Cricket Team. Further note should also be taken that the selectors could only recommend a player's name for the position of captain. It is actually, finally, left to the WICB to perform the duty of confirming the captain's position.

Yet another reason given is the thought, a positive one, really, that Lara is "doing a Sachin Tendulkar." The former and sometimes still captain of India had once given up the captaincy to try to improve his batting returns. It had worked well for Sachin, so maybe, just maybe, it could also work for Brian in the immediate future. He certainly needs some runs. Remember, I did mention that Lara is a very intelligent cricketer.

The massive problem with Lara's removing himself as a candidate for the captaincy, outside of the fact that it undermines whatever little confidence and credence that is still left in West Indian cricket, is that it leaves a huge hole in the overall leadership stakes. There are very few possible captaincy candidates available. West Indies cricket has always, at least in the recent thirty five years or so, allowed for one of the originally selected XI to be captain, not, as is sometimes done in England and a few other places, have a captain individually selected and then have a team erected around him. In Caribbean minds, the captain should certainly merit his natural position in the team before he could be elected captain.

Guyana's captain, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, while being a senior batsman for the West Indies, is probably the poorest captain of a present regional cricket team. That was quite obvious over the games he was Guyana's captain. In the semi-final against Jamaica, he was worst than poor; clueless might just start to cover it.

Jimmy Adams, the captain of Jamaica, and the last vice-captain of the West Indies cricket team, to New Zealand, is probably the No. 1 contender for the position. However, he has not made many runs for his country this 2000 first class season, and indeed, he has not scored much for the West Indies since that 94 for the West Indies against Australia almost two years ago.. His highest score to date, in six Busta Cup games, is 32.

Stewart Williams, the captain of the Leeward Islands and Philo Wallace, the captain of Barbados, are both fringe West Indian players who have, in the past, been tried, tested and have failed. Rawl Lewis, the captain of both the Windward Islands and the West Indies "A' team, is another who is a great liability at the highest level and has not really blossomed, despite several opportunities. A captain of a West Indies cricket team representing the seven million of us, including especially me, must have more to offer than these three.

The West Indian captains' barrel is quite barren.

This brings me back to my suggestion after the South African debacle. I had suggested then that either Ian Bishop or Roger Harper should have been named then as interim captain after that tour. I still believe that. Many thought that I was mad. Maybe now they could understand where I was coming from. That certainly would have helped Lara.

As it is, Roger may have been appointed to the "wrong" position last week, although I expect him to be good as Coach. Right now, not next week, not next month or next tour, but right now, the West Indies cricket team needs a captain badly!!

Like all of the situations that has befallen West Indies cricket in the last several years, this too will be ridden out. It might even be opportune timing for West Indies cricket, as the Manager and the Coach of the senior West Indies cricket team are both new to this environment. Adding a new captain to this equation might not be such a bad idea.

It is as good a time as any to start over afresh. The only way from the bottom is up!!