It’s just not cricket

“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 the Mail on Sunday, 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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