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Decision day for Lara as England kick their heels

By Paul Newman in Antigua

7 January 1998

THE most fevered activity at Antigua's new and so far completely sodden Caribbean Cricket Centre yesterday came not at any of the splendid facilities but in an adjoining restaurant in the Club Antigua complex.

For there, with England's best-laid practice plans again dashed by unseasonably heavy rain, sat the West Indies selectors listening to what Clive Lloyd, their manager for the recent ill-fated tour of Pakistan, promised would be a ``scathing report'' ahead of today's scheduled announcement of a captain to take on Mike Atherton's tourists.

One of the biggest issues in recent Caribbean cricket history seems destined to end today in the appointment of Brian Lara to replace Courtney Walsh, a development which would be greeted with euphoria among supporters of the batting genius but dismay by those who have questioned Lara's attitude and commitment since the heady days of 1994, when he recorded the highest individual score in both Test and first-class cricket.

Certainly the memory of his 375 against England, just a few miles from here at the St John's Recreation Ground, was a world away from the mood of the selectors yesterday. They who wanted Lara to succeed Walsh in Pakistan but were overruled by the West Indies board, who today must decide whether to accept this time the views of both the selectors and Lloyd, who recommended wholesale changes after the 3-0 sub-continental series defeat.

Curiously, Lloyd does not have an official selectorial voice but Malcolm Marshall, the coach, does and he and the majority of the players are believed to be backing Lara, arguing that the captaincy will both focus and bring the best from him. There are those on the board, however, who still want to retain Walsh for want of a better alternative or put their faith in Jimmy Adams, captain of the West Indies A tour to South Africa, as a compromise solution.

England, meanwhile, feigned indifference to the unfolding drama. They have been thoroughly frustrated by the rain which has fallen for much of the time since they arrived on Saturday, rendering this worthy acclimatising venture fairly worthless so far.

They are in Antigua to open the new centre, easily the best in the West Indies, and prepare for the real business which begins next week in Jamaica but so far have been reduced to running, minimal fielding practice and talking sessions which have involved batsmen, fast bowlers and spin bowlers discussing their gameplans in peer groups before a general pooling of views.

Even David Lloyd, their ebullient coach, was slightly less than upbeat when he said: ``It's sod's law, really. People here tell us that they haven't had proper rain for seven months and the groundstaff at the new centre put 45,000 gallons of water on the square and outfield just before we arrived because it was so dry. Then as soon as we get here it starts hosing it down and it hasn't stopped yet. I suppose you have to laugh.

``The tour starts properly in Jamaica and this is just an extra bit I wanted to tag on. We could have stayed indoors in Manchester or come to Antigua so we came here but in hindsight we might have been better off in Manchester. These things can happen and as each day passes we'll see what can be done, like using the tennis courts for a hit or even getting the bowlers to have a short bowl on the concrete driveways outside our apartments. We're still acclimatising but have had to build up in a more relaxed way than I anticipated.''

It seems ironic that England are inspecting the wickets at various times during each day to see if they may be playable just as they would do in Manchester.

Darren Gough yesterday confirmed his commitment to Yorkshire and underlined his determination to recover from the hamstring injury that has ruled him out of England's tour to the West Indies.

Gough has cleared up confusion over remarks at the weekend that he would quit cricket if he could not play for England.

``The whole story has been blown out of all proportion,'' he said, ``because my career is not - and never has been - in jeopardy. It's hard enough having to sit at home watching England on TV without people believing I'll pack it all in if I can't play for my country again. In fact I'm still hopeful of getting on the tour.''

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:22