"ICL is misunderstood"
Brian Lara 's out of cricket at the moment with an injured wrist but chances are you wouldn't have watched him playing even if he was fit, unless you went across to the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula. Why is one of the world's best unable to play with and against the likes of Tendulkar and Warne. In Delhi as brand ambassador for Angostura, Lara took time off to chat with a few journalists.
What was your experience of playing in the ICL last year like?
It was not a very good experience. I didn't score too many runs. This was compounded by the fact that I was injured and no-one knew about it. I had a torn muscle in my shoulder. But it was something I had committed myself to long before. It was the first time they ran the tournament and there were many obstacles. People may not have understood the ICL's agenda. Maybe they have not made that very clear. I'm not living in India so I don't know all the facts. But the fact of the matter is that young Indian cricketers are playing with international stars and that's good for the game. I know there's trouble on the horizon and things have been confrontational but I'm not going to get into that because I don't understand the mechanics of it very well.
Twenty20 cricket is the rage all around the world now. You've played a lot of Test and ODI cricket. Do you think playing the shortest version of the game is the best way to go for young cricketers?
I'm very happy to have played as many Tests as I have because I don't think it's ever going to be the same in the future. For me as a young man, exercising my talent and expressing myself on the field, that was the stage I wanted to perform on. In saying that you can't take anything away from Twenty20. This is the twentieth century and this is a format for the times. It brings in a different sort of crowd and there's no cricket game that lasts this length of time – three-and-a-half hours. I appreciate the fact that it brings something to the table. It depends on what young cricketers want – if they're into Test cricket then it might be a bit difficult for them because they're two totally different games and you can't marry the two. Twenty20 is a spectacle and we have to live with it because it's going to evolve into something bigger.
Did you watch the India-Australia series at all?
Watched a little bit. I thought India played really well in the Tests and the one-dayers. It shows that they're growing as a team. They changed Test captains from Rahul Dravid to Anil Kumble recently and Dhoni is only new in the job. But two major victories – the Twenty20 World Cup and now this ODI triseries win in Australia – can only be good for Indian cricket. Most importantly, my watchword to India would be that when you are on top of the game that's the time you have to do the most homework. You have to go back and do what you can because people will be gunning for you. When Australia come to India next don't think they're going to be timid and accept the fact that they've been beaten by India. They're going to come strong, looking for revenge. For Dhoni and Kumble the hard work is just starting because only then there'll be any continuity in success. As long as you make that impression on the world, that you're taking your game to different levels, people will target you. I'm very happy with the results. I knew that Buchannan made a mistake by lighting a fire under Sachin. You don't say something to a player like that before a series starts and get away with it. So I was very proud of what Sachin did. But that was expected. As soon as I saw those words I knew he was going to be up for the challenge.
Shouldn't Brian Lara be playing with the Tendulkars and the Warnes in the best stadia in India, in the best league, rather than in an unknown ground in Panchkula?
That's what I'm accustomed to. But it's a situation that I find myself in and it's unavoidable. Hopefully good sense will prevail. People are injecting a lot of cash into the game with both leagues, the ICL and the IPL. At the end of the day you don't want to see anybody lose their shirt. The fact of the matter is that it's just a game, cricket. It comes with a lot of politics but if Lara's playing or whoever is playing you want to get out there on the best stage and express yourself without any of the outside influences.
With lucrative Twenty20 leagues popping up around the world, some boards – West Indies and New Zealand for example – have raised concerns that these leagues are drawing away from the game …
Drawing away from the monopoly the boards had over their players? If you ask a New Zealand cricketer what his financial terms are with his country you'll realise that the IPL and ICL are good avenues. People need to wake up to the fact that there are options. That's what life is all about, having options and exercising those choices. I don't blame anyone for developing a league. Stanford was not under the WICB in its first year but since it has come under the official umbrella. Let's see what happens in India with the leagues. Equally let's see what the boards do in countries like New Zealand. I've played Test matches in New Zealand where there are two men and a dog watching while next door there are 60,000 people watching a Rugby game. So the NZC have to get their act together and make sure they keep their cricketers. They need to develop that financial stability. You can't blame a young man for going out there and seeking to make a living for himself and his family.
Will this then work as a wake-up call for some boards?
That's what it has done. The boards are being challenged in different areas and now they have to be on their toes and have to mind their Ps and Qs. Three-four years ago in India and other places you had problems between the boards and the players when it came to player rights and contracts. Now you have a different situation with the franchising of teams and private entities getting directly involved with cricket. It's a red light for the International Cricket Council and also various home boards. Let's see how they react.
The choice of playing where they want, going to the highest bidder for that they're actually worth, increases player power, doesn't it?
As long as there are opportunities and your services can be utilised in different directions then you're going to be a wanted player. If something's happening in the middle of a domestic season in West Indies and players are going off to play in a league in India that's because there are opportunities. In a way it does give the player more power but I don't know if that's the right word. In soccer there are so many leagues, and you could be playing in England one day and the next day in Spain and there's no stigma there. The most important thing for cricket is that international cricket and first-class cricket have to meet at the same level. That's when cricket will become strong. And leagues like this will help that. The disparity between international cricket and domestic cricket is so huge and you had a monopoly situation where you had to playing for Trinidad and then West Indies – or India or Australia – to be actually worth anything. Now they're bridging the gap and players have more opportunities.