Brian Lara, the West Indian legend, spoke eloquently on the issue of sportsmanship while delivering the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture 2017 at Lord’s on Tuesday (September 4).

Lara held that the best team in the world should take the responsibility of ensuring the game was played in the right spirit.

“The best team in the world has the responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld every single time that they play,” said Lara. “And that the spirit of cricket is there on the field with them every time they enter the field.”

Speaking of the all-conquering West Indian team he became a part of in the late 1980s, Lara said they hadn’t always played in the right spirit, and gave examples of where he felt they had gone astray.

“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 little piece out of Fred Goodall’s shoulder and ran into him in New Zealand in a Test Match. Michael Holding decided he no longer was a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump. I’m sure that the occurrences during that period had a big effect on cricket.”

“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 little piece out of Fred Goodall’s shoulder and ran into him in New Zealand in a Test Match. Michael Holding decided he no longer was a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump. I’m sure that the occurrences during that period had a big effect on cricket.”

Lara also referred to the 1988 series when Imran Khan’s Pakistan side toured the Caribbean and a string of poor umpiring decisions denied them a series victory. Lara was also critical of West Indies’ time-wasting tactics against England in 1990 to save a Test and said it was embarrassing for him as a youngster to witness that as the 12th man.

“I had never seen groundsmen and officials fight for Man of the Match,” he said. “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 anytime soon. It started with a couple of hours to go and England still had enough time to win the game.

“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. It was dark and Graham Gooch had to call his troops from the field and West Indies grabbed a draw. We bowled, in one hour, seven overs.

“I was the 12th man. I was running out with laces, a banana, water, cough tablets, all sorts of things in that last hour. It was truly embarrassing.

"Michael Holding decided he no longer was a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump," said Lara. © Getty Images

“Michael Holding decided he no longer was a cricketer, he was a footballer and he kicked a stump,” said Lara. © Getty Images

“They went 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.

“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 really and truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of the individuals in the team, I felt that 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.”

“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. 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 really and truly embarrassed. As a young cricketer who looked up to a lot of the individuals in the team, I felt that 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.”

He also spoke on the decline of Windies cricket and felt that had the West Indies Cricket Board, as it was known then, looked into the matter proactively, things could have been different.

“People talk about the Tests series we lost in 1995 that’s when we started to spiral,” said Lara, referring to the defeat at home to Mark Taylor’s Australia, which brought an end to their run of being unbeaten in a Test series in 15 years. “I felt we started to spiral years before that even when the great players were playing.

“I feel the West Indies officials should have taken a different look into what to do about saving 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 moving forward. But that didn’t happen.”

Lara, regarded as one of the few cricketers who didn’t wait for umpire’s decision when he felt he was out, also spoke on the issue of walking.

“Another thing that bothers me about the spirit of the game that batsmen not walking when they are out. I don’t see any room for that in cricket. I cannot understand some of the arguments that I hear, there is an umpire to make a decision, how many times I have been given a bad decision. Let them do their job. I could never agree with that situation. I think we are much bigger than that.”

He cited an incident from early in his career when he was out hit-wicket in a Test against South Africa but didn’t walk as he ‘did not know the rules fully’ then.

“In only my second Test match against South Africa, I think Allan Donald or the late Tertius Bosch was bowling. He bowled me a short ball and I flicked it. As I moved, I felt that my heel touched something. I ran past the bowler and he was pointing at my stumps. The umpires met and discussed, and they decided that I wasn’t out. As a young man not knowing the rules fully, I accepted the umpire’s decision. But it never really rested properly with me and I didn’t last really long afterwards.

“I told myself from that day that if I am ever out in a cricket match. I wouldn’t be waiting for the umpire’s decision. The fielding team is going to see my back.”

Lara referred to an incident in a Test in India in 1994 to attest his point when he walked even though the umpire gave him not out.

"I felt the West Indies being the best team in the world needed to play cricket in a different way,” said Lara during his speech. © Getty Images

“I felt the West Indies being the best team in the world needed to play cricket in a different way,” said Lara during his speech. © Getty Images

“I remembered going to India in 1994. Very exhausted but I couldn’t miss a battle with Sachin Tendulkar. I really and fully wanted to see what this guy could do especially being at the top of my game. But I lost that battle after the first Test match and meandered throughout the series.

“In the last test match, I got to 93 in the second innings. I pushed forward to (Venkatapathy) Raju and I felt a faint edge on my bat. I stayed in my position long enough for Venkat (S Venkataraghan, the umpire) to say ‘not out’ but that was not the reason why I stayed in that position. I was very disappointed. I collected myself and turned my back and went off the field. Never to score a hundred in India.”

Lara also spoke about his world-record innings of 400 against England, which remains Test cricket’s only quadruple century so far. England thought they had their man on nought, caught behind off Steve Harmison, but Lara maintained he hadn’t felt anything on the bat.

“He is not here tonight but if you ask Michael Vaughan I think he is convinced I edged the ball on nought before I score 400. If I were to say I would say, Michael, listen. I heard the same thing you heard but I actually didn’t feel anything on my bat. Not because you feel I am out, I am going to walk. I have to be 100% sure that I am out.

“I also believe that Michael Vaughan was given caught behind in that Test match and he wasn’t very happy but we were quite satisfied with the decision.”

“I remembered going to India in 1994. Very exhausted but I couldn’t miss a battle with Sachin Tendulkar. I really and fully wanted to see what this guy could do especially being at the top of my game. But I lost that battle after the first Test match and meandered throughout the series. In the last test match, I got to 93 in the second innings. I pushed forward to Raju and I felt a faint edge on my bat. I stayed in my position long enough for Venkat to say ‘not out’ but that was not the reason why I stayed in that position. I was very disappointed. I collected myself and turned my back and went off the field. Never to score a hundred in India.”

Speaking on the current set-up in the Caribbean, Lara stated that the dispute between the Cricket West Indies and the players was destroying their cricket.

“The disharmony between the West Indies Cricket Board and its players is the one cancer that I believe has affected and destroyed the West Indies cricket over the last 20-25 years. I started in 1989 and I didn’t feel that love and that unity that we saw on the field, that high-fives. I felt when Sir Viv Richards took charge of the team, his relationship with West Indies Cricket Board was actually a turning period in our cricket. I feel that the board thought that he was too powerful. And they always wanted to get rid of him.

“I remembered one series in 1991, again not playing (in the team at that time). We were two weeks out from touring England. Viv was mumbling and all, and said to me that can you believe two weeks out of the team the selectors haven’t selected a captain. I said to him, don’t worry about it man, you know that you are sure you are going. I am not sure.

“And he was right. As a 21-year-old, if you are in the 13 you are definitely in 16. But as I 39 year old, and a captain you never know who is gunning for you. Sir Viv got selected for that tour and relinquished the captaincy in England, wanting to play the 1992 World Cup just as a player. But I believe we know exactly what happened to Sir Vivian Richards. They put him out to pasture. He never played that 1992 World Cup in Australia.”

Lara also said that he wanted to tour England in 2007 but had to opt out.

“Guess what happened to someone 16 years later. Playing the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, I wanted to come to England for that 2007 Test series, but I couldn’t face the embarrassment. I didn’t know what the selectors wanted me to do. So I retired. I truly wanted to come to England to play that series but I opted out of it.”

"(West Indies') performance at Headingley can serve as a tremendous template for West Indies cricket moving forward," felt Lara. © Getty Images

“(West Indies’) performance at Headingley can serve as a tremendous template for West Indies cricket moving forward,” felt Lara. © Getty Images

Among the lighter moments from his playing days, Lara revealed the tale of how he became Richards’s driver during an England tour.

“Sir Viv was given a beautiful car and I said to him, I would love to get behind the steering wheel. He said, go ahead, have fun. He threw the keys of the car to me and he jumped in the passenger’s seat. Three months later, I knew all the motorways in England. I became his driver. The only strip of road I actually wanted to see during that series was the 22 yards between bat and ball and I didn’t get an opportunity to play a Test match in that series.”

Lara also expressed joy at the performance of the current Windies team, who defied all predictions to beat England at Headingley and square the series 1-1 heading into the deciding third Test at Lord’s.

“The astonishing performance of the young and inexperienced West Indies team in Headingley would have been applauded in every county in England. My personal feeling is that if there is one team that all of England wants to do well is the West Indies, despite what one Englishman said this West Indies lot is the worst cricket team that he has seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket. I feel that it wasn’t warranted but he said it. But I feel that around the cricketing World people were looking forward to the West Indies cricket team to stand up and be counted for. And that’s what that group of youngsters did at Headingley and I must congratulate them for that.”

“I say this with no malice, no sarcasm as I believe the astonishing performance of the young and inexperienced West Indies team in Headingley would have been applauded in every county in England. My personal feeling is that if there is one team that all of England wants to do well is the West Indies, despite what one Englishman said this West Indies lot is the worst cricket team that he has seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket. I feel that it wasn’t warranted but he said it. But I feel that around the cricketing World people were looking forward to the West Indies cricket team to stand up and be counted for. And that’s what that group of youngsters did at Headingley and I must congratulate them for that.

“But I know the old saying that one swallow doesn’t make a summer,” he added. “And I know the English team is going to be out there at Lord’s after an expected loss, looking for a series win. All I can really ask from my boys is that the same discipline self-belief, the same camaraderie they showed at Headingley, please show it at Lord’s. Come what may, I believe that the performance at Headingley serves as a tremendous template for West Indies cricket moving forward.”

Lara ended his note by sharing the text Sachin Tendulkar sent him after Windies’ victory over England.

“I got a text message from Sachin Tendulkar and he said it was the success that entire world needed and he commended the WI cricket team for a wonderful victory at Headingley.”