THEY WERE one of the best and most feared cricket teams ever to play the game, but the way the West Indies went about it was not always something to be proud of, according to an all-time great. RON REED reports:
AS IF IT isn’t enough for West Indies cricket to be struggling as much as it has for the past decade or more, now even the great teams of yesteryear are under attack – and from within. Legendary batsman Brian Lara’s confession that he was personally “truly embarrassed” by the way his heroes and contemporaries sometimes played the game comes as a sad shock.
The Caribbean’s most prolific Test run-scorer used the Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s – an annual occasion designed to provide the game with a platform to examine its ethics and integrity – to lambast the behaviour of some of his former team-mates during the period of dominance in the 1980s and early 1990s.
He said there were occasions when their tactics resulted in them “playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played,” and he was not proud to have watched it or to have been a part of it. He added: “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. And that the spirit of cricket is with them every time they enter the field. They should show the way and lead the way.”
Lara nominated two of the many great fast bowlers of the time, Colin Croft and Michael Holding, for criticism, noting that Croft had deliberately charged into an umpire, Fred Goodall, during a 1980 Test in New Zealand and Holding had “decided he was no longer a cricketer but a footballer and kicked a stump.” Such occurrences had a big effect on cricket generally, he said.
He said series against Pakistan in 1988 and England in 1990 were marred by win-at-any-cost gamesmanship. Events against England were “disturbing” and seeing his seniors behaving the way they did was “one of the saddest moments in the world.” England had been given no chance in that series, he said, but had won in Jamaica and then in Trinidad had plenty of time, even after rain, to chase down a small total for another victory. What ensued was farcical.
“I had never seen groundsmen and officials fight for man of the match,” he said. “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 with laces, a banana, water, cough tablets, all sorts of things in the 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 (wicketkeeper) 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.
“As a West Indian, I was truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of 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.”
Lara claimed such dubious tactics were counter-productive in the long run because they allowed the Windies to achieve series wins over Pakistan and England that disguised flaws that might have been addressed had they lost. Losing to Australia in 1995 was not the beginning of the end, he said – the spiral had begun years before while all the great players were still on deck. They could have done more to guide younger players on to the right pathways but that did not happen, he said.
Lara also congratulated the current West Indies team for its shock win in the second Test in England after having been slaughtered by an innings and 209 in the first one – and didn’t miss former foe Geoff Boycott for his dismissive comments about the tourists. “A former England cricketer said this is the worst team he has seen in 50 years of seeing, playing and commentating on cricket. It wasn’t warranted but he said it, and everyone wanted the West Indies cricket team to stand up and be counted and that’s what they did. I want to congratulate them for the effort,” he said.
Lara said that his Indian contemporary Sachin Tendulkar had texted him about the comeback victory, describing it as “a success the entire world needed”.
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.