Brian Lara has implored the top sides in world cricket “to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld” and admitted there were times he was “truly embarrassed” by the behaviour of the West Indies side he represented.
Lara, delivering the MCC Spirt of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord’s, not only called on batsmen to “walk” but suggested the leading sides had a responsibility to “show the way and lead the way” in which the game is played.
And, despite the outstanding record of the West Indies sides of the 1980s and early 1990s, Lara felt they were occasions when the tactics they employed resulted in them “playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played.”
In particular, Lara raised the notorious series against New Zealand in 1980, when Colin Croft shoulder-barged an umpire and Michael Holding kicked over the stumps in frustration, and two series (against Pakistan in 1988 and England in 1990) when he suggested West Indies employed a certain amount of gamesmanship to win at any cost.
“The highest-ranked team in the world has the responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld every single time they play,” Lara said. “And that the spirit of cricket is with them every time they enter the field.
“I grew up at a time when West Indies dominated the world. For 15 years from 1980, the 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 Match. 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.”
Despite it being a period when people in the Caribbean were “accustomed to victory after victory,” Lara suggested it was a time he was “not very proud of”. He confessed to being “embarrassed” when a series of umpiring decisions helped West Indies overcome Pakistan in 1988. In particular, he felt Viv Richards was fortunate to survive a leg before appeal against Imran Khan and Jeffrey Dujon fortune to survive an appeal for a catch off Abdul Qadir.
Lara referred to events in the 1990 series against England as “disturbing” and suggested that seeing his heroes behave in such a manner was “one of the saddest moments in the world”.
“Everyone said England had no chance,” Lara said. “But they won in Jamaica and, in Trinidad, even after rain, had ample time to chase down a small total.
“I had never seen groundsmen and officials fight for Man of the Match. They moved lethargic, slow. If there was a wet spot someone went off the field, they came back with nothing in their hands, they took their time to ensure this game was not going to start any time soon.
“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, 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.
“They went on to Barbados. It was another keenly-fought Test and Rob Bailey was batting with not much time to go for a drawn Test. He flicked the ball down the leg side and Jeffrey Dujon dived and collected. The first slip – I’m not going to call his name – ran towards the umpire and signalled. The umpire wasn’t taking him on but he kept going and going and eventually he stuck his finger up and gave Bailey out. It definitely wasn’t out.
“England sort of lost faith in the game. They lost that Test and the next in Antigua for West Indies to win the series 2-1.
“As a West Indian, I was truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of the individuals in the team, it was one of the saddest moments in the world. For me, I felt the West Indies being the best team in the world needed to play cricket in a different way.”
“People talk about the Tests series we lost in 1995 as the time we began to spiral,” Lara said. “I felt we started to spiral years before that when the great players were playing.
“And if Pakistan or England got what they deserved in 1988 and 1990, I feel the West Indies officials would have taken a different look into what to do to save West Indies cricket at a time we had senior players who could have guided the younger players to have ensured we were on the right footing. But that didn’t happen.”
Lara also used the lecture to appeal for the introduction of a Boxing Day Test in the Caribbean – “the amount of you guys who could come out to Barbados and Antigua would, I’m sure, fill the stadium,” he said – and congratulate the West Indies side that recently won the Leeds Test. Quoting a text message he had received from Sachin Tendulkar, Lara referred to it as “a success the entire world needed.” (ESPNCricinfo)