West Indian batting legend Brian Lara has expressed his desire to play in the Indian Premier League but said he has to be match-fit to stand a realistic chance of featuring in next year's Twenty20 event.
Lara, who made a comeback to competitive cricket two months ago by playing in the Zimbabwe T20 league after a three-year hiatus, said he needs to get into the groove as soon as possible to give himself a chance to be picked for the 2011 IPL season.
"If I was to give myself a chance to play in the IPL, then I need to start now," Lara told ESPNcricinfo.
"I tried negotiating with Surrey in May and that fell through. I am not going to say that I am ready for the IPL.
The option is around the corner, and I have put my name in the hat. But I need to play cricket regularly from now till then to get fit and capable of doing justice to the game and to my form in such a highly competitive league," he said.
The 41-year-old left-handed batsman said he wants to take a mentor-cum-player role in the lucrative competition, same as Rajasthan Royals' Shane Warne or Chennai Super Kings' Stephen Fleming.
"I see myself in that light as well. I don't want to be fighting with the youngsters for a game ... left out today, playing tomorrow. I would like to see myself as someone who can make a contribution even if I am not in the final XI. I would like to get involved in a holistic way and not just as a player," said Lara, who scored 11953 runs in 131 Tests.
Lara, who played in the now defunct Indian Cricket League for one year, said he does not regret the decision.
"Well, when the ICL first came to me, it was not a rebel league. It had the likes of Tony Greig and Kapil Dev (associated with it). That was a league that was trying to bring the game forward," said Lara, who turned out for Mumbai Champs for one season.
"I put my name in ink, which was obviously a mistake at the end of it. But I have no regrets. That's gone. I played one season and I asked them to excuse me, because obviously after having such a long career, you don't want to be playing ICL cricket and considered a rebel and banned from all levels of cricket," he added.
West Indies are currently ranked number 8 in the ICC Test and ODI rankings and Lara feels the vast talent in the Caribbean needs to be properly channelised and supported.
"There is still an abundance of talent. I believe that we still have some of the best youngsters in the world. You look at young Kemar Roach as a fast bowler; you look at Adrian Barath making a hundred in his debut Test at the Gabba. Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo's brother ... these are very, very good players," Lara said.
"What I am worried about is those three-four years from teenage life to early twenties. What happens? Do they grab hold of international cricket? They can't do that by themselves. There's got to be a supporting team behind them to make sure that they elevate themselves very quickly to that level.
"I see ordinary Australians get on the scene and in three or four years they are top-class players. I see (that) in the West Indies, really special young players get out there and struggle, (and) can't find their way. Something must be wrong with our system," he added.
Recently, there has been a lot of bad blood between the West Indies players and the administration over their contract.
The last controversy to dog the team was Chris Gayle's removal as captain after he, along with Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, opted out of a central contract with the West Indies Cricket Board.