Brian Lara's strange captaincy of West Indies

Stabroek News
March 23, 1998

Confusing, stupendous, quixotic, exciting, strange, beguiling!! These words, and many more, complimentary or not, are being used to describe the captaincy skills displayed by the new West Indies captain, Brian Charles Lara.

The prime example would be Lara s decision to field first in the 5th Test at Barbados, despite the precedent set by past Test matches in Barbados that this tactic does not work well there. Most of the teams which inserted the opposition at Barbados eventually lost. Though, with England initially tottering in the 1st innings at 55-4, the tactic could have been seen as initially being successful.

Whatever one's opinion is of his tenure so far, almost all will agree that it has panned out to be very different, fresh even. While this is acceptable, even expected, displaying individuality, there are those who are not so sure. Many are suggesting that Lara has deliberately set out, not unlike the venerable Clive Lloyd, to mold his own niche in the history of West Indies cricket.

Perhaps Lara is trying to prove that he is the best captain ever. After only seven Tests in charge, the jury is still out, considering. It will be some time before definite attitudes and decisions are co-ordinated in minds to come to a conclusion.

Lara made no secret of the fact that he wanted the captaincy of the West Indies badly. Like most immediately successful individuals, he thought, rightly or wrongly, that he would be a much more effective leader of the faltering West Indies team than the two previous incumbents, Richie Richardson and Courtney Walsh. Indeed, it was strongly suggested by many observers that Lara was, at times, non-cooperative with these past captains.

In the minds of these observers, Lara planned to undermine the captains sufficiently so that he himself could be appointed to the position. Finally, he has, permanently.

One thing has definitely happened so far. He has had some good fortune. "Fortune favors the brave." By right, England could have been 2-0 up in the series after the Tests in Trinidad & Tobago. While Hooper s batting finally won the game for the West Indies in the 2nd Test, it was in the 3rd that many became confused with Lara s tactics.

Firstly, he used his premier fast bowlers, Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, in continuing spells of, firstly, one over, then, in two-over spells. Not even the oldest person in the Queens Park Oval nor anyone I have met since, had ever heard of such usage of fast bowlers. It was innovative, certainly unprecedented. It was very nearly successful. When it looked as if the West Indies would lose the 3rd Test, which they eventually did, by a mere three wickets, Lara probably did the right thing by entrusting the final efforts to Walsh and Ambrose, in extremely long spells, while the other bowlers, including two front line bowlers, Kenny Benjamin and Nixon Mc Lean, were mere spectators. In the 4th Test in Guyana, many wondered why Ambrose was languishing in the outfield, "being rested", while England, especially Mark Ramprakash and Robert Croft, were fighting to save the follow-on. It was as if Lara was waiting for the decision of enforcing the follow-on, or not, to be taken out of his hands.

In the 5th Test, many wondered what had Ian Bishop done wrong on the first day. He did not bowl until a half hour into the 2nd session, while England, at lunch, were on the brink of disaster at 55-4. Then, after England had made 403, the West Indies batting tactics seemed totally confusing. None of the batsmen settled down after the loss of Philo Wallace s wicket, and the batting line up was even altered, with Shiv Chanderpaul coming in at No. 5, Roland Holder at No. 6, and strangely, Carl Hooper at No. 7, remembering that Ian Bishop had batted at No. 3, the night watchman. Very strange tactics from decisions which only a captain could make, or at least approve of.

Since the West Indies won both in Guyana and in Trinidad & Tobago, Lara could claim that the end justifies the means. In Barbados, Lara and the West Indies were hard pressed to convince most of that. The rain may saved even further blushes.

One extreme positive which Lara has brought to the team is the visible, genuine change of attitudes of all the players. This is certainly the most relaxed anyone could ever remember the captain himself being, and many others in the team, including Curtly Ambrose.

The team's pre-game activity is fun and professionalism wrapped into one and a joy to watch, their camaraderie real and touchable. Lara did state in his acceptance speech that his aim was to bring back glory to the West Indies team, and thus, the Caribbean region. He suggested that he not only recognized that cricket in the Caribbean is a way of life and not only a game, but, additionally, that the West Indies cricket team is the ONLY sufficiently cohesive entity in the Caribbean to have almost universal support.

Lara has certainly infused his own convictions and ideas immediately in team selection. We even saw a new, young leg-spinner, Didinath Ramnarine, playing his first Tests in this series. If Lara hopes to be as strong an individual and as successful a captain as Clive Lloyd was, then he must immediately have his way. I doubt, though, that the West Indies Cricket Board would ever allow any captain, now or in the future, to have the same amount of power that Lloyd, and by extension, his team, had .

Simply, Clive Lloyd and his team, as one entity, was much more powerful that the West Indies Cricket Board and all concerned knew exactly that.

Lara's tenure as captain is young but extremely positive. Happily, he has found the magic touch with his players. Even the veterans seem to want to perform well for him. Indeed, it seems that especially the seniors, Walsh, Ambrose and Hooper are very keen to do well for their captain. The members of the team remind me of Grand Prix cars, always champing at the bit, ready to blast off at a moment's notice. He cannot now lose his first series as captain. Rest assured, though, that before the sixth and final Test of this series is completed in Antigua, and many times after, we will probably see some more innovation from Lara. After a win in this present England-West Indies series, Lara would be off and running. Greater challenges await him in South Africa later this year, the 1999 Cricket World Cup and a return bout with Australia, something Lara himself has promised would go West Indies way.

With his motivational, diplomatic though sometimes uncomprehending skills, the world had better remove themselves from his path, as his careening speed could destroy many opposing teams in the foreseeable future. If he regains his propensity for large individual scores, we all could be in for a treat, perhaps the making of history, perhaps the making of the best player cum batsman cum captain yet. Most of us, even supporters of opposing teams, are looking to Brian Charles Lara to bring the West Indies cricket team back to even greater heights and glory than was enjoyed n the past. It would be fun.