Pretoria - West Indian cricketer Brian Lara has extended a belated apology to the South African public for the 1998/99 tour debacle and his team's weak performances in the ensuing Test series.
Lara was guest of honour at a banquet in Johannesburg this week to launch the Sports Heroes Walk against Aids - an annual event where sports personalities join a walk through the provinces raising awareness and providing communities with the necessary tools to fight the Aids epidemic.
"Before I say anything else, I want to apologise to South Africa," the cricket legend said.
"Sixteen years ago I was the captain of the West Indies team which almost didn't tour. By the time we got here, we were already mentally destroyed. We robbed the South African players and public of a competitive Test series, which we lost 5-0."
The team was holed up in a London hotel refusing to travel to South Africa over a pay dispute. Ali Bacher, managing director or the United Cricket Board at the time, flew to London to negotiate with the team but had in his armoury a secret weapon - a letter from then President Nelson Mandela imploring the players to go ahead with the tour, stressing the importance of their visit to the new democracy.
"In our minds, the tour was definitely off until we were handed the letter from Madiba. How could we refuse him?
"So I'd like to share a little of the blame with him. If he'd only written that letter one week earlier, the whole fiasco could have been avoided."
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) now find themselves in a similar situation after the players pulled out of their recent tour of India midway through the series with one remaining ODI, a T20 International and three Test series still to play.
The same touring side is due to visit South African shores in December and Lara hoped matters would be settled before then.
"I believe it's all down to communication. I think the WICB don't engage the players enough - in good times and bad -- until it reaches boiling point.
"I'm very biased towards the players because I've been in that situation before and I know what it's like. The West Indian public comes down heavily on the players because it always seems to be a money issue but that isn't necessarily the case. Sometimes we just want principle points to be addressed.
"We want to play cricket -- we're born to play cricket -- but we want to be treated fairly."
While he hoped the team would be competitive, he said realistically they would struggle against the Proteas.
"They're playing against the better team but I'm hoping they put the negative things behind them.
"These guys are all professional and capable, and they will give it their best shot.
"The current team is good at the shorter version of the game. In the longer version, they're still finding their feet and in Test cricket we are not there yet."
He said the problems went far deeper than people realised and there was no infrastructure in place for the next generation of stars.
"We are capable of taking the best talent and making it look mediocre, while the rest of the world has mediocre talent and makes it look very good.
"If you look at the set up in South Africa, the players can take much of the credit but they have a good structure in place. You are able to find new talent and have in place what it takes to be successful."
The left-handed batsman retired in 2007 and remained the only cricketer to have scored 100, 200, 300, 400 and a 500 in first-class cricket.
His 400 not out is the highest individual Test score in the world and his 501 not out for Warwickshire remains the highest individual first-class score.
Playing off a four handicap, Lara said he now travels with his golf bag instead of his cricket bag. He promotes tourism for Trinidad and Tobago and raises money for his foundation which he and his siblings set up to honour their parents.
"I also chair a cancer foundation in Trinidad and there is also a cancer treatment centre. I have no financial connection to it but what I do have is the ability to bring people who can't afford it to the centre. It's a good way to help Trinidad and Tobago."