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England's decision to go early goes wrong

By Paul Newman in Antigua

9 January 1998

SOD'S law decided to haunt England again yesterday. As they fled Antigua five days early in search of better weather in Jamaica, the Caribbean Cricket Complex enjoyed a hot day of unbroken sunshine.

England, having pledged on Wednesday morning to stay in Antigua for a week on pre-West Indies tour practice out of loyalty to the entrepreneurs behind the new high-quality practice facility on the island, finally ran out of patience when the heavens opened to unleash the worst storms seen yet in their sodden stay. This rendered any possibility of proper play before Monday's scheduled departure impossible.

England then decided, late on Wednesday night, to head for Kingston early yesterday morning in the hope that the adverse weather, which has so mystified and disappointed the locals, had not spread that far west. Instead, the weather situation changed in Antigua, leaving frustrated ground staff at the centre to carry on their mopping up operation in glorious conditions.

At least the return to something like normality in Antigua enabled West Indian cricket pundits to soak in the momentous news of Brian Lara's appointment to the captaincy which he has long craved.

Most observers - outside Jamaica, at least - seemed in agreement with the move which the West Indian Board appeared to feel almost obliged to make at Courtney Walsh's expense in an attempt to bring the best from their flawed batting genius.

Only in Antigua and Birmingham was the news greeted with something less than enthusiasm. Richie Richardson, the former West Indies captain who clashed with Lara during the 1995 tour to England, said: ``The people I've been speaking to feel Courtney still has a lot left as a bowler and should have been given another go as captain. West Indies cricket is in a bad way at the moment and people are questioning whether the captaincy should have gone to someone so controversial, someone the board are not completely happy with.

``My opinion is that Courtney should have been kept as captain at least until the end of the series. I took over at a hard time myself because even under Viv Richards there were signs that the team was going into decline, but it is much worse now.

``The players are not performing, people are pointing fingers at each other and this captaincy battle has been taking attention away from other problems in the side. I had the shadows of Clive Lloyd and Viv hanging over me but Brian has the fear of losing to England and that has to be even harder to handle.

``In Jamaica the reception will be hot, that's for sure. Courtney is a hero on the island and if the team do not start well the crowd will turn on Brian. Even though we were beaten in Pakistan, no one here wholly blamed Courtney because he bowled his heart out. It will be terrible if the team do not have our traditional support behind them.''

In Birmingham, Dennis Amiss, the chief executive of Warwickshire, said: ``We're delighted for Brian. It will broaden his experience ahead of him taking command at Edgbaston but we feel the motivational factor has been taken away.

``It's something he has wanted for a long time but if he hadn't gained it we feel he would have wanted to come to England to prove a point to the West Indies selectors.''

Someone else stepping out today to prove a point is Curtly Ambrose, who is out to prove his fitness ahead of the first Test in Jamaica starting on Jan 29 by playing for the Leeward Islands against Guyana in Anguilla.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:16