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February 18, 1999


The Rediff Interview/ Roger Harper

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'Lara is still the best man we have'

Roger Harper He has represented the West Indies in three World Cups. But Roger Harper, who was in Delhi last week for the tri-centenary Veterans Cricket Championship organised by the Punjab State Cricket Association to commemorate 300 years of the Khalsa Panth, won't put his money on his own team. At one time, though, the West Indies used to be automatic favourites. Instead, Harper suggests, South Africa is the best bet for the upcoming World Cup in England.

But Harper, who did his bit with the bat and was a tweaker of merit too, thinks Brian Lara is still the best batsmen there is, despite the controversies surrounding him and his captaincy during the disastrous tour of South Africa.

"I have no doubt that he is still the best batsman in business," Harper told Onkar Singh in an interview.

The West Indies did not do well under Lara on the South African tour, both in the Test matches and one-dayers. What, according to you, are the reasons for this kind of a poor show, considering that West Indies once dominated the world cricket scene?

It is very difficult to say what really happened on the tour. But I think one of the key reasons for our poor show was the lack of talented youngsters in the team. We haven't done what other nations have been doing. They have been grooming young cricketers and giving them a chance to prove their worth both in Test matches and one-day internationals.

One country that has done a lot in this respect is India. A lot of youngsters have come up in recent days in the Indian cricket team and excelled in almost all departments of the game. These youngsters have been properly guided by coaches, who ensure they are technically sound to appear in international cricket.

Lara's captaincy has come for severe criticism in recent days. What do you think has gone wrong with West Indian cricket because the team that was once a world champion is nowhere in the first six teams?

Like I said, we haven't really paid attention to grooming of young cricketers. When we were on the top of the world cricket, our competitors saw how we prepared and learnt their lessons from us. While they came up and started winning tournament after tournament, the West Indians have been going downhill.

We haven't prepared ourselves like the others have. Not that there is any dearth of talented players in the West Indies. It's only a question of picking up the promising ones and giving them proper training and international experience.

Lara is under pressure because he lost a series, and that too badly, in South Africa. Any losing captain will face this problem. Right now, the West Indian Cricket Board is seized of the matter and I'm quite sure they will come up with the right solution. I personally believe Lara is still the best man we have in the West Indian squad.

Do you think old-timers like Sir Garfield Sobers should come forward to help the West Indian team to come out of this rut?

Clive Lloyd is already the manager of the West Indian team and I think no other cricketer can replace him. The basic thing I have been time and again emphasising in my interviews is that we have to make a fresh start.

We must pick up young and promising cricketers and bring them up to international standards. The right attitude and more commitment and determination are needed to rebuild our team.

You have played a lot of cricket yourself and taken part in three World Cup competitions. What was it that made you stay on top of the world cricket for so long?

I have played in three World Cups -- in 1987, 1992 and 1996. We stayed on top of world cricket because we were playing like a team and because we had excellent players like Gordon Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Vivian Richards, and a host of other cricketers who could change their game according to the situations.

In the last World Cup, we started slowly. We lost our initial game and did not play as well as we should have done but we still managed to reach the semi-finals before we bowed out of competition.

The next World Cup is still a couple of months away. Australia is coming to the West Indies to play a series. We should be able to judge our performance in that series and then see what sort of changes that need to be carried out to give a tough competition to other teams in the World Cup later this year.

Which are the four teams which according to you would make it to the semi-finals?

On current form, I'd say that South Africa, Australia and India will definitely be there. As far as the fourth team is concerned, it could be anyone. England in England are a different team and difficult to beat. Then we have the Sri Lankans, the Pakistanis, the New Zealanders and the West Indians. Pakistan is a brilliant team when they decide to play serious cricket.

What has gone wrong with the Sri Lankan team which seemed to be winning every single tournaments till a couple of years back and now seems to be losing their touch?

Well, this happens. The law of averages catches up with you one time or the other. They were doing well for a long time, winning practically every single tournament. They have their own problems. While some of their key players like Jayasuriya are not finding their golden touch, some other are plagued by injuries. But they have time to regroup before the World Cup.

If Ranatunga and Arvinda get going, they will be difficult to dislodge.

Which are the five cricketers you expect will perform for West Indies in the World Cup?

My list would be the same as anyone else's. I expect Lara to lead the list. Then comes Carl Hooper, Shivnarain Chanderpaul, Walsh and Ambrose.

Would you like to pick the West Indies team?

No, thanks. I would rather leave that job to the selectors.

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