Lara's problem is not new

by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
March 7, 2000

Almost five years ago, in a hotel room in Manchester, Brian Lara walked out of one of the regular team meetings on the West Indies' tour of England, announced he was retiring and pointedly told manager Wes Hall: "Cricket is ruining my life".

It was a disturbing predicament for someone who, at the age of 26, had the world at his feet.

His phenomenal deeds of a year earlier, when his 375 in a Test in Antigua and his unbeaten 501 in a county match in Birmingham, set incredible new records within six weeks of each other, made him the most identifiable cricketer of his age. Lara was a name recognisable in places on this earth where cricket is known only as a small insect or the brand of a German motor car.

A euphoric nation fawned over him. His government showered him with gifts. Eager sponsors inundated his agents with lucrative offers. It was only a matter of time before he would be West Indies captain, a reality that had been a boyhood dream..

So how was it that he was so distressed by the very instrument of his reputation?

The answer has been repeatedly obvious in many of his actions since, most starkly in his decision last week to take a break "for a short period".

Like so many similarly supremely gifted sportsmen, it was simply that Lara found he could not fully commit himself to the discipline required without compromising his favoured lifestyle. There were those in Trinidad who knew, all along, that, one day, he would have to make a choice between his love of Carnival and his love of cricket and that, in the end, he could come down on the side of the former.

Newspapers there, seemingly unconcerned with the present dire state of West Indies cricket, have characterised the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) as the villain of the piece in organising a camp prior to the Zimbabwe Test series that coincided with Lara's long-laid Carnival plans.

The Express expressed the view that Lara was being "ordered to the camp at Carnival time as punishment for the poor performance of the team" in New Zealand.

The Guardian said it would be "callous" of the WICB to expect Lara to attend the camp on the weekend he had organised his big fete.

Such opinions pointedly explained Lara's initial complaint to Hall that cricket was ruining his life.

After the euphoria of his record-breaking feats, he became irritated by the attention of the media, however well intentioned. He was overwhelmed by the obsession of golf and disregarded practice more than he should. Encouraged by psychophants and a weak board, he was either excused or gently rapped on the knuckles for a series of well-publicised indiscretions for which he repeatedly apologised, always with the pledge that he was fully committed to West Indies cricket.

He fast became a law unto himself.

When the captaincy came his way and the weakest West Indies batting team since the 1930s had to rely ever more on his leadership and his batting, he found the pressure unbearable. The "devastating failures" under him were understandably crushing psychological blows that prompted his resignation. They, and his lifestyle, inevitably led to his decision last week to forsake the game "for a short period".

He is now only 31, an age at which the few batsmen who have ever been blessed with his talent are at their peak. West Indians who recognise his genius, flawed as is it, will pray that, before long, he can rediscover the love for cricket without which he could never have achieved such heights.

For all his faults, he is not only essential to the strength of the team but to the well-being of cricket in the Caribbean that is so short of players of class and appeal to the young.

Lara now says he will now "seek the assistance of appropriate professionals to rebuild all facets of my game so as to sustain the remainder of my cricketing career".

When Michael Holding suggested when the first of Lara's problems manifested itself that he should seek help, he was castigated by those for whom Lara could do no wrong. How prophetic Holding's words are now.

Now Alloy Lequay, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) who has unerringly supported Lara through each successive controversy, said last week he feared that Lara's "cricket life will be shorter than what is normal for a top performer".

Had Lequay and others close to Lara explained from the start what was expected of a top performer, both on and off the field, he might not have arrived at the present sorry pass.

Hopefully, the advice he now seeks from "appropriate professionals" will bring him to that realisation.