Just before the 3rd and final Test of the Wisden Trophy between England and West Indies, Caribbean legend Brian Lara stepped his feet inside at the iconic Lord’s to deliver this year’s annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture. One of the biggest highlight of his lecture was Lara admitting the embarrassing behaviour by West Indies cricket team in the 1990s he was part of it.
"The highest-ranked team in the world has the responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld every single time they play," Lara said. "And that the spirit of cricket is with them every time they enter the field.”
Lara also criticised the behaviour of Colin Croft and Michael Holding against New Zealand in 1979-80. Croft shoulder-barged an umpire, while Holding expressed disagreement by kicking over the stumps in frustration. He also pointed out the 2 series played against Pakistan in 1988 and England in 1990, where he finds West Indies players showing a certain amount of gamesmanship to win at any cost.
"I grew up at a time when West Indies dominated the world. For 15 years from 1980, the West Indies never lost a Test series. And just before that, Colin Croft decided he was going to take a piece out of Fred Goodall's shoulder and ran into him during a Test Match. Michael Holding decided he was no longer a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump. I'm sure the occurrences during that period had a big effect on cricket," Lara expressed.
During the dominating period in 1980s for West Indies team, the Caribbeans were used to victory after victory and despite that, Lara was not very proud of that. In fact, he admitted of being embarrassed when a series of wrong umpiring decisions helped West Indies win the contest over Pakistan in 1988. The then West Indies captain Viv Richards was fortunate to have survived a leg before appeal against Imran Khan, followed by Jeff Dujon’s appeal for catch off Abdul Qadir.
Lara then moved on to 1990 Test series against England in West Indies, which he considers as disturbing after seeing his heroes behaving not in the sporting manner. Lara also quoted those moments saying, “one of the saddest moments in the world".
"Everyone said England had no chance," Lara said. "But they won in Jamaica and, in Trinidad, even after rain, had ample time to chase down a small total. I had never seen groundsmen and officials fight for Man of the Match. They moved lethargic, slow. If there was a wet spot someone went off the field, they came back with nothing in their hands, they took their time to ensure this game was not going to start any time soon.”
Lara continued revealing and added, “Eventually, it started with a couple of hours to go and England still had time. We bowled, in one hour, seven overs. It was dark and Graham Gooch had to call his troops from the field and West Indies grabbed a draw. This is maybe the most embarrassing moment for me as a young West Indian, watching a West Indies team time-wasting, playing the game in a way it should never, ever be played.”
The stylish West Indies batsman also revealed the part played by him in order to save the Test as 12th man and quipped, "I was 12th man. I was very, very guilty. I was running out with laces, a banana, water, cough tablets, all sorts of things in that last hour. It was truly embarrassing.”
Lara then opened up about another such embarrassing incident which happened during the 4th Test. "They went on to Barbados. It was another keenly-fought Test and Rob Bailey was batting with not much time to go for a drawn Test. He flicked the ball down the leg side and Jeffrey Dujon dived and collected. The first slip - I'm not going to call his name - ran towards the umpire and signalled. The umpire wasn't taking him on but he kept going and going and eventually he stuck his finger up and gave Bailey out. It definitely wasn't out,” said Lara.
The Caribbean side then went on to win the series 2-1, after pulling off a victory the 5th Test. However Lara had some other views over that win, which he explicated by saying, “England sort of lost faith in the game. They lost that Test and the next in Antigua for West Indies to win the series 2-1. As a West Indian, I was truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of the individuals in the team, it was one of the saddest moments in the world. For me, I felt the West Indies being the best team in the world needed to play cricket in a different way."
Lara then blames those victories for West Indies downfall, which triggered from there on. As per Lara, had West Indies lost those series, the flaws would have been seen at right time and probably addressed timely.
"People talk about the Tests series we lost in 1995 as the time we began to spiral," Lara said. "I felt we started to spiral years before that when the great players were playing. And if Pakistan or England got what they deserved in 1988 and 1990, I feel the West Indies officials would have taken a different look into what to do to save West Indies cricket at a time we had senior players who could have guided the younger players to have ensured we were on the right footing. But that didn't happen."
In the end, Lara also appealed for the introduction of Boxing Day Test in the Caribbean in order to restore the people’s faith in cricket’s oldest format and could be the right time to fill the stadium. "The amount of you guys who could come out to Barbados and Antigua would, I'm sure, fill the stadium,” Lara added.
Lara then also congratulate the current West Indies side that won the Test match after 17 years in England at Headingley and cited a text message from Sachin Tendulkar, which he received after the 2nd Test saying, “a success the entire world needed.";