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Last updated: Friday, 17 January, 2003, 17:52 GMT

Why the World Cup needs Lara
By Oliver Brett
BBC Sport Online

Brian Lara
Lara could have a huge World Cup
Question: Who is the world's most elegant batsman and arguably the biggest crowd pleaser?

Answer: Brian Lara.

Not everyone would agree, but his unique, exaggerated backlift, exquisite timing and calm arrogance have held a legion of admirers in thrall for some time.

The 33-year-old Trinidadian left-hander is making tentative steps towards full fitness in time for the World Cup by playing in a four-day domestic game.

With any luck for his fans, he will soon click into gear and be fresh and in-form when the West Indies play the first fixture of the tournament, against the hosts in Cape Town.

All of which makes it appear utterly extraordinary that some observers in the Caribbean actually felt compelled to insist Lara should have been left out of the Windies squad.

Tony Becca, the veteran Jamaica Gleaner columnist, said Lara had shown "little respect for the game, its administrators and the people of the West Indies".

The selectors, despite grumbling about Lara's attitude, failed to act
Tony Becca
He said the selectors finally had the chance to act by axing Lara from the World Cup squad, noting how previously they had lacked the nous to do it.

"In times past, the selectors, despite grumbling about Lara's attitude, despite whispering about its effect on the team and on West Indies cricket, failed to act."

Granted, Lara may not be the most dedicated disciple when it comes to training and he may lack the model team ethic less gifted sportsmen often possess.

But all this has to be put to one side, because not only is he a crowd-pleaser, his figures stack up admirably too.

Having played more than 200 one-day internationals, he boasts an average of nearly 43, a tremendous achievement.

He has accumulated 15 centuries, topped with a phenomenal 169 in just 129 balls in 1996 against the Sri Lankan side that would win the World Cup a matter of months later.

In 1994 Lara broke Garfield Sobers' record Test score, and a few weeks later became the first batsman to pass 500 in a first-class innings.

But he then really struggled for a time, particularly in Test matches, before embarking on an extraordinary scoring spree in Sri Lanka towards the end of 2001.

In the interim, Lara had twice almost retired from the game.

Then, in December 2001, he fractured his elbow but quickly recovered and bounced back to form to have a solid 2002, until suffering hepatitis in September last year.

Only now is he completing his recovery from an illness that clearly unnerved him.

Recently, Lara said he would like to play on until the 2007 World Cup.

He would be 37, two years younger than England's present wicket-keeper batsman Alec Stewart.

True, supposing Lara does play in Newlands on 9 February, the Windies will have to reshuffle a batting line-up that is looking strong at the moment.

Perhaps Daren Ganga would have to make way.

But surely the Cape Town spectators cannot be deprived the chance of seeing one of the game's finest craftsmen in action.

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