West Indies cricket legend Brian Lara has fond memories of the southwestern Zimbabwe city of Bulawayo where he scored 191 in a Test innings 20 years ago.
The 53-year-old was back at the Queens Sports Club, the scene of his 203-ball knock, this week in a new role as West Indies performance mentor.
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His maiden mission is to assist the West Indies in a two-Test series from Saturday against Zimbabwe, a country they have faced 10 times in the longest format, winning seven and drawing three.
Once a powerful force in international cricket, the Windies have fallen on hard times, with a first-round exit from the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia last year the latest setback.
Lara, whose unbeaten 400 against England in 2004 remains the highest individual Test score, was part of a three-man panel that recently reviewed the multi-nation team’s woes.
The panel pinpointed the financial lure of T20 franchise cricket, saying some West Indies stars were putting it ahead of international duty.
The warning was stark: West Indies cricket may “cease to exist” unless the issue of its top players prioritising global T20 leagues over international calls-up is resolved.
Lara has kept a low profile since arriving in Zimbabwe, saying only that he “believes he can help the players with their mental approach and tactics”.
After a 2-0 Test series loss in Australia two months ago, the West Indies confront Zimbabwe with an interim coach and several injury-enforced changes.
– World Cup humiliation –
Coach Phil Simmons quit after the T20 World Cup humiliation. His replacement Andre Coley called the visits to Zimbabwe, and then to South Africa next month, “challenging”.
“The tours offer me an opportunity to make a tangible and meaningful contribution to the growth of West Indies cricket,” he said.
Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel has been recalled after a 14-month absence, with knee surgery ruling out Jayden Seales.
Seamer Anderson Phillip is another injury victim. Left-arm spinners Gudakesh Motie and Jomel Warrican made a 15-man squad captained by opening batter Kraigg Brathwaite.
Zimbabwe are winless in 22 Tests since beating Pakistan in 2013 and it will be the first time coach Dave Houghton has taken charge in the longest format since his appointment last year.
Former England batsman Gary Ballance is set to make a Test debut for his country of birth, but prolific scorer Sikandar Raza is absent, playing franchise cricket in Dubai.
Gary Ballance, Chamunorwa Chibhabha, Tanaka Chivanga, Craig Ervine (capt), Brad Evans, Joylord Gumbie, Innocent Kaia, Tanunurwa Makoni, Wellington Masakadza, Kudzai Maunze, Brandon Mavuta, Richard Ngarava, Victor Nyauchi, Milton Shumba, Donald Tiripano, Tafadzwa Tsiga
Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Roston Chase, Joshua da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Gudakesh Motie, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Devon Thomas, Jomel Warrican