Speaking at Lord’s, West Indies batting legend Brian Lara revealed he was embarrassed by the behaviour of some of the West Indian greats. Excerpts:
My first tour with West Indies was to England in 1991. We were playing a match in Darlington up north. It was a two-day game before a Test match. I wasn’t playing in the Test matches so I was the perpetual water boy during those days. And Viv Richards, on the second day after we batted, said, “If anybody wanted to bowl?” And I immediately put up my hand. (Curtly) Ambrose and (Courtney) Walsh didn’t have any interest. And he ignored me.
Finally he looked at me and said: “Do you really want to bowl?” I said, “Yes, I want to bowl.” I bowled leg-breaks and googlies, and not very well. It took me a couple of overs to get my line and length and, eventually, I bowled about seven overs. Decent overs, didn’t get any wickets, but was economical. And I said to him I had enough. And the bowler from the next end bowled the over and Viv threw the ball to me and turned his back. It didn’t seem like he got the message. Two overs later, I said I had enough. He threw the ball to me again. My figures at the end of the day, 25 overs, 0/130. Why would I want to become a bowler?
On that same tour, Sir Viv was given a beautiful Vauxhall Calibra. And I stood outside the hotel in London and said to him mistakenly, “That looks beautiful. I’d love to get behind the steering wheel.” He said, “Go ahead, have fun.” He threw the keys to me, he jumped into the passenger seat. Three months later, I knew all the motorways in London, sorry, in England. I became his driver. The only strip of road I actually wanted to see during that series was the 22 yards between bat and ball. And I actually didn’t get an opportunity to play a Test match in that series.
For me cricket started in a little village in Santa Cruz, Trinidad called Contaro. I’m one of 11 kids. I am No.10 in the family, 7 boys and four girls. The first time I played a family cricket game, as you can tell we can field our own team, I had to bat at that exact position, No.10. My six older brothers batted before me, and Marlene, Agnes and Kathleen felt that they earned the right to bat before me because they were born before me. My eldest brother Junior climbed a coconut tree and with his machete, we call it a cutlass, he cut a branch and shaped my actual first cricket bat as a four-year old. It was an amazing time in my life, growing up in such a big family. I just loved cricket. I played a bit of football. I actually played for Trinidad and Tobago in under-age football. I played table tennis as well. My dad, he loved, cricket. He was a fanatic. He never placed any pressure on me but I remember one time where, indirectly, he told me exactly what he wanted me to do.
The Trinidad & Tobago national Under-16 football team was heading to Venezuela. Harvard Coaching Clinic was heading to Barbados to play cricket. He looked at me and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m going to Venezuela, of course.” He said, “Ok, no problem. You have gear?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well if you want a cricket bat, come and talk to me. Other than that I don’t want to hear from you.” So off to Barbados I went. And never really looked back. I could understand the old man’s point of view. He had six other sons. They were crap. And ladies cricket wasn’t something that was that popular back in those days. So, he had one chance to actually produce a young cricketer. And so I obliged.
I want to talk about a period in West Indies cricket that I am not very proud of. I was accustomed to victory after victory. The West Indies actually never trailed in a series during my period of time. But in 1988, Pakistan came to the Caribbean. They won comfortably in Guyana. What I was surprised about, because that was not the most troubling moment for me, was that in the next Test in Barbados, West Indies drew that Test match, Pakistan were still one-nil up in the series. It was a gruelling Test match and on the fifth day, Jeffrey Dujon was trying to steer West Indies to victory with the tail. And Abdul Qadir bowled a googly, it hit his glove and ricocheted to back-pad. The entire Pakistan team went up. And I think the umpire did like this (pointing his index finger but shaking it) not out. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t playing. The Pakistan team I can see looked defeated. They lost the fight except for Abdul Qadir who actually punched a spectator and had to pay a thousand US dollars to settle out of court.
Another disturbing period during that time was England’s 1990 tour of the West Indies. I was on the team as usual, water boy, I accepted that period for two years. And England had no chance. Ian Botham wasn’t there. David Gower wasn’t there. They arrived in Jamaica and outplayed the West Indies and they led the series 1-0, and everyone believed that could not be repeated.
They went to Guyana. Rain fell, no play at all, and they went to Trinidad with a one-nil lead and Graham Gooch won a very, very important toss. Green track and by lunch West Indies were 29 for 5.
It was not a fluke. Wayne Larkins and Graham Gooch batting really well and put England in a commanding position and by the fifth day, England were in the driver’s seat. Rain came, washed out a session but England still had ample time to chase down a very small total. And I’ve never ever seen groundsmen and officials fight for man of the match.
They moved lethargic, slow. If there was a wet spot, somebody went off the field, they came back with nothing in their hands, they went back again. And they took their time. They showed that this game was not going to start anytime soon. It started with a couple of hours to go and England still had ample time to beat the West Indies.
And it may be the most embarrassing moment for me as a young West Indian watching West Indies team time-wasting, playing the game in the way that it should be never, ever played. I think we bowled in one hour, only seven overs. I was the 12th man. So I was very guilty. I was walking out with lacings, banana, water you know, cough tablets. All sorts of different things during the last hour of Test cricket so it was truly embarrassing, and they went on to Barbados and Rob Bailey was batting with not much time to go for a drawn Test match. And he flicked the ball down the leg side and Jeffrey Dujon dived and collected and the first slip — I am not going to call his name — ran towards the umpire and signalled and umpire wasn’t taking him on. He just went going and going and he eventually stuck his finger up and gave Rob Bailey out, and he definitely wasn’t out, and England sort of lost faith in the game.
They lost that Test match and they lost the Test match in Antigua for West Indies to win the series 2-1. It was one of the saddest moments in the world. I felt the West Indies team, being the best team in the world, needed to play in a different way. Did we play in the right way actually brings me to the second point, what happened to West Indies cricket? They had halcyon days of 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, then what happened? I always stop them and I could include what happened a week ago — I understand that this was the first win for West Indies for 17 years against England; last time was in 2000. I always wanted to say that is it the stat we should be looking at? Or should we be looking at we have never beaten England in England since 1988 (in a series). That is where I look for decline.
Because people say the first Test series we lost in 1995 — they say that started the spiral. I say we started the spiral years before that even when the great players were playing. And if Pakistan got what they deserved, or England got what they deserved in 1988 and 1989 respectively, I feel that West Indies officials would have taken a different look into retrospection in what we do to save West Indies cricket.
Another thing bothers me is the spirit of cricket is batsmen not walking when they are out. I don’t see any room for that in cricket because I can’t understand some of the arguments I hear: ‘there is an umpire to make a decision, why should I walk, do you know how many times I have got a bad decision? Let them do the job’. But to me I could not understand why I would want to have an unfair second chance to bat in the same innings of a match when everybody is toiling.
I remember as a young man, playing my second Test match, against South Africa and they had just come back from apartheid system and were given full sporting status again. We were in Barbados. I think Allan Donald or the late Tertius Bosch bowled a short ball and I flicked it. And as I moved off I felt my heel touch something, I ran past the bowler and he was pointing at my stumps. The umpires met, discussed and decided I wasn’t out. As a young man, unaware of rules, I accepted the umpire’s decision. But it never really rested properly with me. I told myself that day that if I am ever out in a cricket match, I would not be waiting for an umpire’s decision. The fielding team is going to see my back.
I remember going to India in 1994. I had a very tough year. I was always in middle – I was in middle in Antigua against England, I was in middle in Edgbaston against Durham. So I was a tired young man scoring too much runs. I got to India very exhausted but I could not miss a battle with Sachin Tendulkar. But I lost that battle after the first Test match and I meandered along throughout the series, and India made a mistake and gave a green top in Chandigarh, only 1-0 up in the last Test match. We destroyed them and I got to 93 in second innings I think. When I pushed forward to (Venkatpathy) Raju and I felt a faint edge on my bat and I stayed in the position long enough for Venkat (Venkataraghavan) to say not out. But that was not the reason I stayed long enough in that position. I was very disappointed. I collected myself, turned my back and left the field, and I was to never score a hundred in India.
I felt that when Sir Viv Richards took charge of the team, his relationship with the board was actually a turning period in our cricket. I felt that the board thought he was too powerful and they always sort of looked at him as if they wanted to get rid of him.
I remember one series in 1991, I was at Rockley at Barbados, again not playing, and we were sitting at the pool two weeks out from touring England. And he came around to the pool — he didn’t see me — and he was mumbling all sorts of expletives and I asked him, “Skip, what’s wrong?” and he said, “Can you believe two weeks out from a series in England, they haven’t selected the captain?” And I said to him, “Don’t worry about that man. They must pick you, you must be crazy,” and he looked at me and said, “Shut up! You know you are sure that you are going, and I am not sure.”
And he was right. As a 21- year old, if you are in the 13, you are definitely in the 16. As a 39-year old, and captain, you never know who is gunning for you.
Viv got selected for that tour, and he relinquished captaincy in England, wanting to play 1992 World Cup just as a player. We know exactly what happened. They put him out to pasture. He never played in that World Cup in Australia.
Guess what happened to someone 16 years later. Playing the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, and wanting to come to England for that 2007 Test series, I couldn’t face the embarrassment. I didn’t know what the selectors wanted to do. So I retired. I truly wanted to come to England to play in that series, but I opted out of it.
I would like to end it by saying that I got a text message from Sachin Tendulkar and he said, ‘It was the success that the entire world needed’. And he commended the West Indies team for the wonderful victory in Headingley. Can you imagine if the maestro — if I was to get the next message from that great man after five gruelling days at Lord’s saying the same thing?!