J'can Blackwood admits Lara's mentorship big boost to Windies
BLACKWOOD...it's a big impact already because just his presence alone gives the team energy (Photo: Observer file)

West Indies Test Vice-Captain Jermaine Blackwood says having cricket legend Brian Lara as a performance mentor to help guide the team in Zimbabwe has provided an immediate boost.

Last week, Cricket West Indies (CWI) announced that the 53-year-old Lara is to work with its international teams to offer players "tactical advice" and to help improve "their game sense". The former Test captain is to also provide developmental support for the West Indies Academy.

"It's a big impact already because just his presence alone gives the team energy, pumped up to go out there and score some runs," Blackwood, 31, said during Friday's virtual press conference from the team's base in Zimbabwe ahead of the two-Test series.

"To have the legend around — Brian Lara — it's always good. I think everybody is taking the opportunity to pick his brain a bit, talk to him, ask him for advice for certain stuff.

"I think he's doing that pretty good as well. He's very easy to go out and talk to at any time. At the moment we are enjoying his company and I think he has brought something different to the team and also to the coaching staff. Hopefully, in the next few days, you can see a much-improved batting display from our team," the West Indies batsman added.

Blackwood, who has an aggregate of 2,629 runs in 50 Tests, featuring three centuries at an average of 30.69, is generally a dashing stroke player. In recent times, the Jamaican, who made his Test debut in 2014, has mostly curbed that style, adopting a more measured approach which has brought him some success.

But against Australia late last year, Blackwood was among the majority of West Indies players – Captain Kraigg Brathwaite and rookie opener Tagenarine Chanderpaul were outstanding — to struggle in the face of the hosts' vaunted bowling attack.

Blackwood said Lara, who is considered one of cricket's finest-ever batsmen, wants him to stick to his guns.

"He [Lara] just told me to play my natural game, just go out there and be me, stay positive. He likes what I've done in the past year, the way I was batting. But he's saying, he personally, would like to see me be Jermaine Blackwood — just to combine those two — being aggressive but to bat some balls as well.

"It's just to pick the right ball at the right time. I've been playing Test cricket for quite a while now so I understand when to attack and when to go in a defensive mode.

"He wants me to go and play aggressively… but also I can go out there and if I need to bat a session and block some balls or block two sessions I can also do that," he explained.

"I'm very excited to go out there and play, it's been a while I've felt this light and free to just go out there and express myself," Blackwood said.

The Brathwaite-led unit, which is being guided by interim Head Coach Andre Coley, is to play the opening Test against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on February 4.

— Sanjay Myers

Sanjay Myers

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