WHETHER the West Indies tour of South Africa goes ahead or not, some things have changed permanently. Brian Lara's dangerous brinkmanship has brought home some points about the modern game, some points which administrators and players alike need to think about. As it was after Packer, the game will never be the same again.
It is ironic that the idea of a players' association should have come about following a meeting of captains which was hosted by the ICC. Mark taylor and Courtney Walsh were the first two captains to raise the point about crowded itineraries with the ICC and though nothing has changed in that direction, the players have at least realised that if there is to be a change it has to be engineered by them.
Australia was the first team to put player power to the test and it is ironic once again that the best-paid cricketers in the world were the first to threaten industrial action. And let's not forget that the dispute came to a boil after the international season had begun Down Under; some say that the West Indies should have raised their grievances much before the South African tour, forgetting that they had an excellent example in Australia. Not that it absolves the players from the Caribbean of responsibility for their actions.
There are some who say that the West Indies are the second best paid cricketers after the Australians. This may or may not be true. But the fact remains that the West Indies board is arguably the one with the least funds. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are wealthy in comparison, indeed very wealthy. There are large numbers of people from these three countries who have settled or else are working in richer countries and their support for the game is sometimes greater than that extended by people at home. The West Indies remains a poor group of islands and the only sponsorship that is forthcoming has been from big corporate bodies.
One thing that will change after this episode is that most boards are likely to make the players sign contracts which include a paragraph or more dealing with industrial action. The amount of money which is involved when a team tours is staggering and nobody, not the governments, not the boards involved, not the officials, wants to miss out on any of this moolah.
A second thing which will change will be the way players are regarded outside their own countries. The West Indies have spoilt their reputation no end and I doubt very much if Walsh, the man who has always been referred to as a gentleman cricketer, will earn that eipthet again. The players may be regarded as heroes back home for standing up to the board; talk shows may be flooded with messages of support. But the fact is that nobody likes mercenaries. Nobody expects a man to play for love and fresh air but then there are ways of asking for more. Blackmail isn't appreciated, not even in 1998.
The boards may also advise selectors to cast their nets wider in order that a bigger pool of talent can be available for any emergency. Last year, Australia were said to be thinking of bringing back Dean Jones to lead a team if the regulars resorted to industrial action. And that is not a situation in which any team would like to find itself. Of course, one cannot expect a second string to perform as the first does. But then during the Packer era, a number of good players were unearthed, solely because the big boys were playing at night. Among them was one Malcolm Denzil Marshall. Enough said.
The age of innocence, what little remained of it, is over. The sad thing about Lara's petulant decision is that strikes will now have to be factored in whenever a cricket tour is planned. And the one person who will lose the most will be that spectator who faithfully turns up to watch his heroes perform.