By Vaneisa Baksh
April 13, 2004
It shouldn't have had to come to this. As breathtaking as this record-plastered innings of 400 was for the cricket world, Brian Charles Lara should have been able to soak up the magnificence of his performance without the bitter taste of circumstances burning the back of his throat.
It should never have been an onslaught from a man so besieged by calls for his resignation as captain that it seemed that his battle was never primarily against England, but against those surrounding him with their steely knives.
True, West Indies had been dragged through a harrowing 3-0 series by England. True, the fourth and final Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground would only decide if it would be the ignominy of a first whitewash on home soil. True, in Barbados the team had sunk to yet another of the two-figure totals that were becoming a little too familiar after the 47 all out at Sabina Park in the first Test. True, manager Ricky Skerritt had submitted his resignation after the second bout of misery at Queen's Park Oval, citing his inability to impress on team members their role and responsibility as West Indian cricketers. True, Lara as captain of this joyless bunch had some measure of responsibility for the team.
But the calls for his resignation were vicious, uninformed and totally devoid of rationality. Media commentators who should know better singled him out for malicious comments, calling him a coward for not batting at his normal position at Queen's Park Oval, when his whole career has been a testament to his mental toughness and fearlessness. Not one could offer a single reason for his removal, except on the principle of vicarious responsibility.
It had happened to him before, when he was just 21 and captaining Trinidad & Tobago in the Red Stripe Cup. He had been blamed and fired after the side lost. "It didn't mean I lacked the qualities needed to be the captain," he wrote, adding that the experience of being sacked "after only one season scarred me deeply".
He has matured considerably since then, although when he resumed the captaincy the West Indian team was still floundering along without any substantial attempts to improve performance. Quick-fix measures had the effect of using bandaids to staunch a haemorrhage. Chop and change, change and chop seemed the only known variations and so, in a hopeless parade of personnel that led to an alarming casualty list of West Indies players and former cricketers, cricket administrators seemed more like wolves leading lambs to the slaughter.
Ever since the debacle when Richie Richardson elbowed Desmond Haynes out for the captaincy, it has been a series of short terms: Courtney Walsh, Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper, and now Lara again. So many players have passed through the team in the last ten years that more have been capped in that period than in first 50 years of Caribbean Test cricket. We can't avoid seeing the weaknesses of the players, but the West Indies Cricket Board's approach has been tantamount to criminal negligence. No investment has been made in any substantive nurturing programmes. A player with a problem is cast aside, ruined, without any attempt to rehabilitate, or guide.
The players of today are generally of the same breed as most of their age group (their average age seems much lower than it was); to chop and change allows none of them the chance to develop. Lara had climbed his learning curve in the stormy years since his 375 in 1994. His time had come.
Anyone watching Lara return as captain could see the reincarnation. This was a different leader, one with more maturity, a greater nurturing instinct, a sharper sense of strategy, and a greater respect for the power of the post. He was not captain this time because it was the biggest job on the block; he accepted the position because he understood how central he was to the rebuilding process.
West Indian people understand that. Early on Easter Monday, when Lara resumed at 313, one placard read "OUR WOUNDS ARE HEALED." It was not just about avoiding the whitewash, it was about restoring something of the dignity that cricket has brought to the West Indian citizenry. Only a man of Lara's stature could do it.
It was clear too that for Lara, this game had laid something personal at stake. His demeanour was that of a man determined to put his naysayers to the sword. When he reached his first century, not even the shadow of a smile crossed his countenance: rather it was a grim look that said, "Take that."
When he reached his second century, it was the same, and it was only when he reached his third that it was clear he knew he had cleared the bad blood, and was ready to reaffirm his allegiance to the crest on his helmet. It was a turning point for many West Indian watchers who had turned away, not from their love for West Indies cricket, but from the shame of watching it ground into the dust under the well-polished heels of old boys who care little for its development, and more for what it can do for their power and prestige. It was a moment when he signalled that they could come home again. And they did.
And so it was that on the morning of the 400, the distant memory of the boyish figure kissing that same ground ten years before was replaced by the image of the new leader - a man of the people this time.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance writer based in Trinidad & Tobago.
Posted April 2004
Coutesy Trinidad Express