The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

THE GOOGLY: IS BRIAN LARA RIGHT TO CRITICISE WEST INDIES, OR DO THEY NEED TO GET NASTY AGAIN?

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Say what you like about West Indies cricket, but no one can claim it has lost its ability to surprise. Abject at Edgbaston, admirable at Headingley, and hanging in there at Lord’s until late in the match… no one expected the series to be such a tight tussle.

Off the field, their players present and past also retain the propensity to shock. Who would have expected Brian Lara to come out and renounce his side’s so-called misdeeds of their glory years?

There is something about being asked to do the Sir Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture by the MCC that makes players take to the confessional. Kumar Sangakkara, Rod Marsh, Sir Ian Botham, Tony Greig, Geoff Boycott – none of them have been saints on the field, but, honoured at being asked no doubt and free of the white-line fever in retirement, they come over all Francis of Assisi.

“The highest-ranked team in the world has the responsibility to ensure the integrity and spirit of the game is upheld every single time they play,” Lara said. “I grew up at a time when West Indies dominated the world. For 15 years from 1980, West Indies never lost a Test series. And just – before that, Colin Croft decided he was going to take a piece out of Fred Goodall’s shoulder and ran into him during a Test. Michael Holding decided he was no longer a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump. I’m sure the occurrences during that period had a big effect on cricket.”

He also described the 1989/1990 series at home to England as “disturbing – one of the saddest moments in the world”. He said: “Everyone said England had no chance – but they won in Jamaica and, in Trinidad, even after rain, had ample time to chase down a small total. Eventually, it started with a couple of hours to go and England still had time. We bowled, in one hour, seven overs. It was dark and Graham Gooch had to call his troops from the field and West Indies grabbed a draw. This is maybe the most embarrassing moment for me as a young West Indian, watching a West Indies team time-wasting, playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played.

“I was 12th man. I was very guilty. I was running out with laces, a banana, water, cough tablets, all sorts of things in that last hour. It was truly embarrassing.”

As Sir Humphrey might have said to Jim Hacker: “Criticising your ex-team-mates is certainly a brave call, Minister…”

Holding responded: "Brian Lara can say whatever he likes and I will not listen. I was never a Brian Lara fan and I never appreciated the way he played. As for having a big effect on cricket, I'm very glad about it. It brought the international panel [of umpires] into force. But it wasn't just us – there were other incidents involving Mike Gatting and [Arjuna] Ranatunga.

"We believed in ourselves and the more we won the more it built our belief to become even greater. Winning became a habit and every time we went out on that field we expected to win."

I doubt Holding is not alone among his team-mates. They were powerful, macho, menacing, flamboyant – it made for a powerful cocktail, an aura that saw them dominate. A case of ‘Je ne regrette rien’, one suspects…

Lara also himself was not controversy-free. He led the players’ strike in November 1998, ahead of West Indies’ tour to South Africa. He also praised Wahab Riaz’s fiery, noisy spell at Shane Watson in the 2015 World Cup – one that the ICC clamped down upon.

If we are to see West Indies continue to regain strength and standing, prepare to see more ruthlessness. Kieron Pollard was lambasted recently after bowling a no-ball which denied Evin Lewis the chance of a century in a Caribbean Premier League match. Pollard overstepped deliberately (seemingly, anyhow) when Lewis was on 97 off 32 balls, with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots needing one to win against Barbados Tridents.

Is Lara right to demand West Indies abide by the spirit of the game… or do they need to get nasty again?