Lara feels Shiv should bat higher
Part of the difficulty for any West Indies side in England is the past. It is inescapable, from the pioneer
tourists of the roaring Twenties, through the first calypso cricketers of the less roaring Fifties, the bravura stylists of the Swinging Sixties and the brilliantly clinical exponents of the Seventies and Eighties when the world was at their feet.
The common conclusion is that a legacy has been wasted and that the 2012 tourists will suffer the fate of their four most recent predecessors in 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2009 and be swept aside. Yet in Ottis Gibson they have a calm, observant and highly qualified coach, who has made brave calls and appears to be in it for the long haul.
West Indies’ most illustrious player of the last 20 years can sense, if not quite yet see, the green shoots of recovery. As Brian Lara said when assessing the chances of this team in the next two months: “We have always had very talented young cricketers and that has never disappeared from West Indian cricket. How that talent is taken forward either personally or by the cricket board is another different story.
“This team is full of talent. We have some very good young players in both departments. For this particular tour I think it is going to be very tough for them especially with the weather conditions and the lack of preparation. We are fighting, though. It is a pretty young team but it is one that has something in it that could go forward.”
Lara is one of those in whose shadow the present bunch must play. Perhaps he looms larger than all of the other great players from the Caribbean simply because he was so recent and set unprecedented statistical and aesthetic standards. He straddled the last of the great years and the beginning of the steep, inexorable decline.
It is six years since Lara played his 131st and final Test match, still at his peak, making three hundreds in his last 10 innings. Aloof from the team though he was by the end, he was and still is irreplaceable. But there are two batsmen of this vintage who do not wilt by comparison. Lara spoke in different tones of Darren Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Watching Bravo perform at Northampton last week against England Lions was to think that Lara himself had been reincarnated at the crease. The high backlift, the languid execution of shot, the breathtaking timing, the equally daunting gift for playing the ball as early or as late as he wished, were all present and correct.
The two men are related – Lara’s mother is the sister of Bravo’s grandfather – and the link between the batting styles was forged at an early stage. It could hardly have been otherwise.
“Driving through the village in Santa Cruz [Trinidad] I would stop and see him with one hand holding his shorts up and the other with a bat in it.
“A lot of older people would be bowling at him – something I did in the past. He is a bit more powerful than I was at his age. He can stand in his crease and toss the spinners over mid-on and -off for six.
“I believe there are great similarities and that is something we smile and talk about whenever we speak. The fact that we have a close relationship means he seeks me out if he needs any advice. It is something I enjoy.”
Bravo’s record at this early stage of his Test career is almost keeping pace with Lara. After 25 innings they were remarkably similar – Bravo had 1,206 runs at 52.43, Lara 1,253 at 50.12, though Lara pulled ahead by making 375 in his 26th, the innings that changed his life forever. After 30, the number Bravo has now played, their respective averages are 49.59 and 56.50. Lara is convinced that Bravo, who was 23 in February, can cope with the attention.
“He has the potential to go the full way. As a former cricketer you quickly accept the fact that as you get to the international level, the talent and potential that you have is a very small part of making it. He has the desire and the mental approach, which is by far more important than the ability, to do so. I believe he has the ability but speaking to him I believe that he has the mental strength and dedication needed too. I am sure he will be a world-class player.”
That description already applies to Chanderpaul, who is now once more ranked as the world’s No 1 batsman. Since Lara retired, Chanderpaul has carried West Indies’ batting on his shoulders. And yet Lara clearly thinks he could do more for the team by moving up the order from the comparatively safe haven of No 5.
“It beats me,” he said. “It is something that I’ve not talked in public about but I would want to know why. If he can be so consistent, why he wouldn’t say ‘let me bat with some more experienced, talented players up the order’? That’s not only going to benefit him but it would help the team.
“Your best batter is going to be at No3 – he is the one who is going to lay the foundations to win a match. If your best batter is coming in five, repairing damage, I don’t understand the logic in it.
“If I was going to be a little critical of the batting line-up at the moment it would be that the top four lack experience. I would like to see Chanderpaul or Marlon Samuels – two guys who have 10 years of experience – maybe jump up to No 3. The younger players, very talented, batting around him would enable them to learn. Not a lot of experience in English conditions is not a good thing.”
Gibson said yesterday that Chanderpaul would continue to bat at five but would be happily prepared to move up if such a decision was believed to be in the team’s best interests. But all of this hardly matters while the game in the Caribbean is so indifferently administered with board and players too often at each other’s throats.
“Of course it is not a happy situation but that’s been the case for 20-something years,” said Lara. “Even when I started we had friction between the board and the players and that has not been solved. Unfortunately, we are still in that situation and the squad is light of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine. They are all plying their trade in the Indian Premier League.”
Lara, like too many of the past generation, has virtually been frozen out of West Indian cricket. He would clearly relish an opportunity to put something back now. “The WICB have their way of doing things,” he said. “At any point in time, though, my phone number is available to all those young players.” If that is so, he ought to have his phone with him at all times in the next month.