It’s just not cricket

Stabroek News - - EDITORIAL -

“In time to come,” to bor­row the ti­tle from Crazy’s mas­ter­piece ca­lypso, West In­dian cricket fans will look back at the events that took place last week – 3rd-9th Septem­ber, 2017 ‒ at the MCC at Lord’s and their feel­ings will run the gamut from hope to ut­ter dis­gust.

The event that has stirred the fans’ emo­tions, and will con­tinue to do so for a long time, oc­curred on Mon­day, 4th Septem­ber, at 6.30 pm GMT at the 2017 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cow­drey Lec­ture.

In the late 1990s, two prom­i­nent MCC mem­bers, for­mer Eng­land cap­tains, Ted Dex­ter and Colin Cow­drey sought to en­shrine the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ in the game’s laws. (The MCC are re­spon­si­ble the Laws of Cricket). Their ef­forts were suc­cess­ful and when the cur­rent Code of the Laws of Cricket was in­tro­duced in 2000, it was in­cluded for the first time.

“Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique ap­peal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any ac­tion which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes in­jury to the game.” The pre­am­ble ex­pands to ex­plain the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of cap­tains, play­ers and um­pires in re­spect­ing and up­hold­ing the Spirit of the Game.

In 2001, the MCC in­au­gu­rated the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cow­drey Lec­ture in mem­ory of the late Lord Cow­drey of Ton­bridge. It is held dur­ing the sum­mer and de­liv­ered by em­i­nent fig­ures from around the world, the likes of whom have in­cluded Richie Be­naud, Su­nil Gavaskar, Clive Lloyd, Rev­erend Des­mond Tutu, Im­ran Khan and Ku­mar San­gakkara. This year’s lec­ture was de­liv­ered by the past West In­dian cap­tain Brian Lara, and broad­cast live around the world on YouTube.

Mr Lara seized the op­por­tu­nity to lam­bast the great sides of the 1980s, claim­ing that he was “truly em­bar­rassed” by the be­hav­iour of the West Indies side he rep­re­sented. He aimed his sights in par­tic­u­lar at Colin Croft and Michael Hold­ing for their be­hav­iour dur­ing the in­fa­mous 1980 se­ries in New Zealand, the last se­ries the West Indies would lose for fif­teen years ‒ Hold­ing for kick­ing down the stumps for the um­pire’s re­fusal at an ap­peal for a wicket, and Croft for bump­ing into Um­pire Goodall’s shoul­der. In do­ing his re­search for the above se­ries, Mr Lara would have no­ticed that WI lost the se­ries 1-0, go­ing down at Dunedin by one wicket, in a match noted for a new world record of 12 lbw de­ci­sions, seven go­ing in favour of New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee.

Mr Lara also men­tioned the bi­ased um­pir­ing in the 1988 home se­ries ver­sus Pak­istan, and the time-wast­ing tac­tics em­ployed by the West Indies in Trinidad dur­ing the 1990 Test match ver­sus Eng­land to even­tu­ally sal­vage a draw. The past cap­tain pro­vided a de­tailed ac­count of his role as 12th man in the lat­ter in­stance, and how guilty and em­bar­rassed he felt hav­ing to per­form his role in run­ning out to dis­rupt the flow of the game. Ac­cord­ing to Mr Lara, it was “one of the sad­dest mo­ments in the world.”

Mr Lara also did not miss the oc­ca­sion to lament the de­cline of the West Indies, lay­ing most of the blame at the feet of the West Indies Cricket Board of Con­trol (WICBC).

Of course, Mr Lara, paragon of virtue that he makes him­self out to be, em­bod­ied the Spirit of the Game when he played, en­hanced by his rep­u­ta­tion for walk­ing, whether or not the um­pire raised his fin­ger.

The re­sponse to the for­mer cap­tain’s speech has cov­ered the range of ut­ter out­rage to com­plete speech­less­ness. As ex­pected, the ‘Laraites’, his en­tourage of fans, com­pletely smit­ten with his 34 Test cen­turies, 11,953 runs, and 52.88 test av­er­age, see noth­ing wrong with this quis­ling-like speech.

It was good of Mr Lara to pro­vide such a de­tailed ac­count of events, as an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse re­quires an ex­am­i­na­tion of de­tails of his be­hav­iour in the past.

Paul Keens-Dou­glas’s char­ac­ter Tanti Merle, the Vin­cen­tian liv­ing in Curepe, Trinidad would be livid at Mr Lara for throw­ing his team­mates un­der the bus. “Get me that lil’ boy from Santa Cruz on the phone! Just who he think he is? He think peo­ple for­get wha he did do in Eng­land? No, I not talk­ing ʼbout 1991, when dey say he twist he an­kle and he had to come home, when it is al­leged that he did tell the cap­tain pon dey field,‘I don’t feel dey’, and dey did send he home. No, ah talk­ing ʼbout Eng­land, 1995.”

Mr Lara, does not seem to un­der­stand that the Spirit of the Game ex­tends be­yond the field of play; it’s more than just walk­ing when you know you are out. Shortly af­ter the 1995 Eng­land tour be­gan, the WICBC ‒ yes, the same WICBC he blames for the de­cline ‒ granted him per­mis­sion to leave the tour for a few days to re­turn to Trinidad for busi­ness rea­sons, thus up­set­ting his team­mates at the spe­cial priv­i­lege ac­corded to him.

Af­ter the West Indies lost the fourth Test match at Old Traf­ford, Manch­ester, lev­el­ling the se­ries at 2-2, all hell broke loose at an open team meet­ing on 30th July. Re­ports have em­anated over the years of a fiery ex­change of words be­tween then cap­tain Richie Richard­son and Mr Lara, with the for­mer say­ing that “he didn’t have time for ego­tis­ti­cal peo­ple who have agen­das and am­bi­tions,” to which Mr Lara re­sponded with the now fa­mous words, “I re­tire,” and promptly stormed out of the meet­ing.

Over the next few days, the se­cret of Mr Lara’s aban­don­ment of his team­mates and the tour, was pro­tected by those very team­mates, un­der the strict in­struc­tions of Man­ager Wes Hall. The ea­gle-eyed English press failed to get wind of the scoop as the West Indies headed to Taun­ton.

Peter Short, then WICBC pres­i­dent, was in Eng­land at the time, and met with Lara who had re­mained in Eng­land, and later ad­mit­ted that Lara “was per­suaded to come back and join the team.” Lara re­turned, made 152 and 179 in the Fifth and Sixth Test matches, re­spec­tively, as he earned the Player of the Se­ries award. None of his ag­grieved team­mates leaked a word of his aban­don­ment.

Af­ter the tour, Hall sub­mit­ted a re­port of the undis­ci­plined be­hav­iour of mem­bers of the tour party to the WICBC. Fol­low­ing a hear­ing on Novem­ber 22nd, Curtly Am­brose, Kenny Ben­jamin, Carl Hooper and Brian Lara were all fined 10% of their tour fees, about US$3,000 each. The first two were for fail­ing to fol­low team or­ders, no­tably not wear­ing their team jack­ets and ties for the flight home, Hooper for tak­ing a leave of ab­sence at the end of the tour, and Lara for leav­ing the tour. It was only then the story of Lara’s depar­ture from the tour broke.

Lara, promptly an­nounced the next day that he was un­avail­able for the tour to Aus­tralia for the World Se­ries Cricket se­ries, with the team sched­uled to leave in 48 hours. He cited men­tal and phys­i­cal tired­ness. Upon his prodi­gal re­turn back in Au­gust, in a meet­ing with Short and the tour com­mit­tee, he had com­mit­ted to West In­dian cricket and even turned down an op­tion to skip the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy tour to Shar­jah in Oc­to­ber.

The bomb­shell dropped by Lara dom­i­nated the head­lines of the Caribbean for the fol­low­ing month, with ev­ery­one hav­ing a say on the mat­ter, in­clud­ing the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board of Con­trol (TTCBC) which, of course, de­fended Lara’s ac­tions. The me­dia re­ferred to Lara as cap­tain-in-wait­ing, as the West Indies floun­dered on their trip down un­der.

The WICBC con­vened a spe­cial meet­ing on De­cem­ber, 15th where re­port­edly there were very heated ex­changes, with the TTCBC even sug­gest­ing that Lara’s fine be waived. Af­ter seven hours of de­bate, it took two hours to is­sue a six line state­ment which ba­si­cally said that Lara was free to re­turn when he was ready to play again. Yes, the WICBC that Mr Lara claimed is re­spon­si­ble for the de­cline, gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted way back in De­cem­ber, 1995.

Past play­ers were livid. Hold­ing who had ear­lier said that he was “too thin-skinned to any crit­i­cism” to take on the job of cap­taincy, opined, “I think Brian Lara needs psy­cho­log­i­cal help. I put it sim­ply as that.” Croft was quoted in the Aus­tralian news­pa­per, Courier Mail, as sug­gest­ing, “Left up to me, I would ban him for two years.” Sir Viv Richards, whom Mr Lara, al­legedly, hinted at in the lec­ture ‒ “I am not go­ing to call his name”‒ was quoted in Mail on Sun­day, the as say­ing, “The WICBC is cre­at­ing a mon­ster that threat­ens to un­der­mine all the toil we put in to make us world cham­pi­ons.”

The rest is his­tory. Lara served three stints as West In­dian cap­tain, win­ning ten Tests, los­ing 26 and draw­ing 11. The de­cline ac­cel­er­ated un­der Lara’s terms on the bridge, as a spirit of in­di­vid­u­al­ism per­me­ated the West Indies teams, but that’s all the WICBC’s fault ac­cord­ing to Mr Lara. In 2005, re­cently re­tired wick­et­keeper bats­man, Ri­d­ley Ja­cobs ac­cused the cap­tain of play­ing for him­self and not for the love of the game.

The for­eign me­dia have had a field day with Mr Lara’s crit­i­cism of his fel­low West In­di­ans. Which begs the ques­tion, does he think that Tony Lewis, Eng­land’s last am­a­teur cap­tain would come to the Caribbean give the Sir Frank Wor­rell Lec­ture at Cave Hill, UWI and up­braid the for­mer Eng­land Cap­tains, Keith Fletcher for show­ing his dis­sent at be­ing given out dur­ing the 1981-82 of In­dia by whack­ing all three stumps out of the ground, or Mike Ather­ton, for the in­ci­dent with the dirt in his pocket in the Lord’s Test match ver­sus South Africa in 1994?

In­stead of air­ing our dirty laun­dry in pub­lic couldn’t Mr Lara have fo­cused on more cur­rent rel­e­vant top­ics, such as the im­pact of the T20 Game, or the ele­phant in the room, match-fix­ing? Surely, over­tures must have been made to him dur­ing his time in the game; we would love to hear of those ap­proaches and his vir­tu­ous re­fusals.

No, rather than keep­ing with the Spirit of Cricket, Mr Lara chose in­stead to show his true colours and dis­as­so­ci­ate his vir­tu­ous self from his past team­mates. This wasn’t an in­ter­view with a re­porter or a mag­a­zine fea­ture writer; this was broad­cast live to all over the world, and he can’t claim now he was mis­quoted.

No, what Mr Brian Charles Lara did, was not cricket.

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