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Last Updated:  Monday, 31 March, 2003, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Windies go for devil they know
By Scott Heinrich

Brian Lara's reappointment as West Indies skipper would seem to many like one step forward and two steps back.

Brian Lara
Lara's previous term in charge was not a harmonious one

He may be the most popular player in Caribbean cricket by some distance, but in Lara the Windies have plumped for an ex-skipper who will turn 34 during Australia's visit.

On the face of it, the decision sits oddly against West Indies' profile of a progressive team looking to put recent history as far behind them as possible.

Lara's previous term as skipper is included in that murky past.

Given the nod ahead of the home series against England in 1998, Lara went on to lead West Indies on 18 occasions, winning six and losing 10.

Though Lara maintained an excellent batting average of 50 throughout his three-year tenure, a rapid decline in the team's fortunes followed the honeymoon of the 3-1 series win over England.

Lara was at the helm for the Windies' 5-0 drubbing in South Africa and the drawn home series against Australia in which he ploughed a lone furrow of resistance.

There was worse to come in a triangular one-day series humbling by India and Pakistan, and in New Zealand when each of the team's seven international matches were lost, including two Tests.

Brian Lara
Lara's maintained a batting average of 50 when last in charge

Off the field, an at times acrimonious relationship with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) seemed to undermine his efforts as skipper.

Prior to the South African tour, a players' strike at the airport forced the then president Pat Rousseau to sack Lara before embarrissingly re-instating him.

Furthermore, Lara was far from a silent objector when Roger Harper was appointed head coach ahead of his favoured option Sir Vivian Richards.

The hammering by New Zealand was the last straw for Lara, and he cited the side's "devastating failures" when he handed in his resignation.

"After two years the moderate success and devastating failures that have engulfed West Indies cricket have brought me to the realization that there is a need for me to withdraw from my present leadership position," a stressed Lara said at the time.

The relinquishing of the captaincy seemed to have a positive effect on Lara, with his form staying rock solid during a fertile if unlucky period.

A highly profitable tour of Sri Lanka in 2001 was cut short by a broken elbow before a bout of hepatitis suffered while scoring a century in the Champions Trophy in 2002 sidelined him again.

Improved

The captaincy, meanwhile, had gone to Jimmy Adams and then to Carl Hooper, Lara's immediate predecessor.

Results for West Indies under Hooper were no better than those in Lara's time, but improved performances in India late last year and an unlucky World Cup campaign led many to believe things were looking up in the Caribbean.

Hooper was roundly viewed as playing a positive role in the team's development, but, despite a vote of confidence from head selector Richards, the 36-year-old has been dethroned by Lara.

The decision may come as a surprise to some, but the figure Lara cuts today is far removed from the bedraggled one that tossed it in New Zealand.

In what looms as a crucial period for the Windies, selectors have opted for experience when they could have turned to a young upstart like Ramnaresh Sarwan.

Lara claims he was motivated to return to the side for the World Cup by a vibrant team brimming with youth, saying he felt for the first time in years he was among colleagues who actually want to win.

Under a revitalised Lara, vice-captain Sarwan is bound to flourish, and at this point in time sticking to the devil the Windies know could well be the percentage call.




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