Lloyd, Lara and King must foster harmony among players By Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
March 4, 2007

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CLIVE LLOYD declared last week that a triumph before their own people in the first World Cup held in the Caribbean would be "the type of boost that is needed" by West Indies cricket at present.

It is a self-evident truth. After all, 29 years have passed since Lloyd led his formidable team to its second successive Cup. Only twice in the six subsequent tournaments have the West Indies made it past the first round and they enter this one ranked above only Bangladesh and depleted Zimbabwe among the ICC's 10 full members.

Lloyd was referring to the play itself but the off-field organization by the nine host venues is of no less significance.

As Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur put it in explaining why his and other governments have invested millions in the tournament, "it is an expression of who we are and what we can do as a people".

Both goals are surely attainable.

The players have shown over the past year that they are capable of defeating the strongest opposition of their day and the related projects, such as the impressively recreated Kensington Oval, are coming to a satisfactory, if belated, conclusion.

If there are delays and overruns and remaining doubts over logistics, it is a situation not peculiar to the West Indies. Even the largest and richest hosts have had such difficulties coping with such major sporting events.

In both areas, success requires consistency, unity and real effort. Unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, the immediate prelude has not been particularly encouraging in other respects.

Only last weekend, players of the two strongest regional teams, six of whom are now teammates in the World Cup 15, were snapping at each other like ruffled bantam cocks in the hot-tempered final of the Carib Beer Challenge, the showpiece match of the domestic season.

Human nature being what it is, Lloyd, now team co-ordinator, captain Brian Lara and head coach Bennett King will find their diplomatic skills severely tested as they seek not only to turn the animosity conspicuous through CMC's excellent television coverage of the final into necessary team harmony and spirit but to prevent such conduct derailing the World Cup effort.

Deryck Murray, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) and West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) director, was moved to condemn the players' response to umpiring decisions throughout the match as "unacceptable".

"I don't think I have ever played in or been a spectator at a game where the umpires' job has been made so difficult," Murray said. And here is a cricketer with 62 Tests and 367 first-class matches for an assortment of teams to his name.

Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler now a respected television commentator not prone to hyperbole, could hardly contain his distress. What he was seeing, he said, was "disgusting".

The standard of umpiring was, indeed, shocking but no more so than in countless Test series in which the West Indies have been involved from time immemorial.

Lloyd will be well aware, from long personal experience, of how such incompetence, real or imagined, can wreck the efforts of any team. If it occurs in the coming six weeks, as it well might, he must ensure his charges rise above it and not lose their focus, and this dignity, as they surely did last weekend at Guaracara Park.

As the 15 players assembled a few days later in Jamaica for a brief preparation camp and two warm-up matches, one of their number, Marlon Samuels, remained under investigation by the ICC's Anti-Corruption Unit for alleged association with an illegal Indian bookmaker.

Samuels would be even more composed than his always unperturbed demeanour indicates if he is not distracted by the continuing inquiry, as his concerned teammates might be. It is a month since it began and it is not always that no news is good news.

Even now, no replacement has been appointed for fitness trainer Bryce Cavanagh who suddenly quit his post during the tour of Pakistan in December and headed back to Australia.

These were hardly the most favourable circumstances for preparing for such a prodigious challenge.

And there were other issues in the mix.

Inevitably, with such a prominent, government-funded undertaking, it carries a definite political component which, Jack Warner noted last week, is potentially strong enough to undermine the whole extravaganza.

As the much investigated vice-president of football's world governing body, FIFA, and a member of Trinidad and Tobago's opposition party, Warner speaks with some authority on the subject.

Nor was it long before xenophobia, the bane of every attempt at West Indian integration, arrived on the scene.

The appointment of Bruce Aanansen as the WICB's new chief executive officer prompted the website, caribbeancricket.com, which describes itself as "The Independent Voice of West Indies Cricket", to declare that we are witnessing "the Trinidadisation" of West Indies cricket "before our very eyes".

It was a theme addressed in his weekly column in this newspaper by Clyde Griffith, no less than a former Barbados cabinet minister and diplomat and self-proclaimed "committed regionalist". He contended that "empirical evidence suggests that… West Indies cricket is being transformed into a sub-colony of Trinidad and Tobago".

The topic was soon being aired as well on radio call-in programmes and other outlets.

Apparently the "empirical evidence" was that Aanansen, a Trinidadian, further swells the number of his countrymen in key WICB positions (president Ken Gordon, financial officer Barry Thomas, communications manager Tony Deyal, captain Brian Lara are the others) and, according to Griffith, that Trinidad and Tobago are pressing to have the WICB headquarters moved to the still-incomplete Brian Lara Stadium there.

It was not that Anansen is unworthy of the job whose two previous incumbents were Barbadian, both of whom resigned (the latter before he took up office). It was simply that he is Trinidadian and there are too many of them.

This is the familiar backdrop against which the West Indies hosts the World Cup for the first time.

Hopefully, by the time Sir Garry Sobers declares the tournament open on March 11, the team will be together, purposeful and properly prepared, the stadiums all ready, the ancillary arrangements in order and the people and the politicians united in the common cause of making good the organizers' boast of staging "the best World Cup ever". Hopefully.