Will The World See Another Brian Lara?
Could it be that all that we’ve understood about Brian Lara and regarded the man for is tragically one sided?
Is it possible that all this while we’ve simply not been able to dwell on what lies on the other side of the left-hander’s inimitable backlift, sweltering batting style and that exaggerated shuffle?
For a batsman adored as the Prince of Trinidad, perhaps there’s more to Brian Lara than the flair and exuberance.
Where else would you find a batsman who was every bit a fighter as he was an artist?
Perhaps, Harsha Bhogle cannot be doubted when he points out that cricketers are irrationally tagged “warriors!”
Surely, they aren’t battling in a bloodied land stymied by an endless barrage of heavy artillery gunfire; they’re just sportsmen doing their jobs that anyone playing a competitive sport would.
But then, doesn’t a sport require one to stay constantly on top of an opponent; therefore, isn’t an athlete required to fight it out in the middle?
And if there’s even a modicum of truth to attached to this, then one would concur that Brian Lara was a battler in the form of a batsman.
He was Leonardo da Vinci wielding the machine gun, not just the paintbrush.
What he left behind facing a constant barrage of opposition, so often vehement to the point of obstruction, were lasting masterpieces.
Significant artworks, one would note, whether his 277, 375, 153 not out or the 400* that brought a world closer to the West Indies akin to how Da Vinci’s famed masterpieces brought the globe closer to art.
No other batsman fought on a Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Vaas, Murali, Srinath, Kumble, Shoaib, Akram, Donald, Pollock, Bond and Kallis with boundless courage and yet managed such mammoth scores as Brian Lara of Port of Spain.
That many of Lara’s heroics came at a time where he had hit the rock bottom as they say it, makes those maverick scores even more worthy of our love and attention.
He was literally a nobody in international cricket when he hit 277 against Australia at Sydney in 1993. Not only was he barely a few Tests old; the world’s attention at that point was more on Warne, another icon instead of the Trinidadian.
When Lara conquered Australia half a decade after his Test doubt at Sydney, circa 1998, his career was going nowhere, he was on the brink of admonishing captaincy and was even contemplating quitting Cricket altogether.
Yet, somehow, Lara produced a magical 153 at Sir Sobers’ land and snatched victory for his West Indies when perhaps none in the Caribbean expected it.
That he achieved a near-impossible win with Courtney Walsh batting at the other end drew crowds nuts to the point of being wrecked emotionally.
And yet, that was the thrill and the magic of Lara; utterly dazzling and endlessly pulsating.
But, the Lara-factor doesn’t end there.
When Hayden smacked Zimbabwe during his 380 run outing in 2003, Lara didn’t say much besides congratulating the towering Australian; he bounced back six months later against England in manic fashion as he took Test cricket to a peak it hadn’t witnessed before.
In April of 2004, Brian Lara became international cricket’s first man to scale mount 400; a knock that came off just 582 deliveries featuring 4 sixes and 43 fours and at a strike rate that touched 70.
Interestingly, Lara’s form in the 2004 home series against Vaughan’s side was pathetic to say the least; calls for his removal from West Indian captaincy were resoundingly loud.
The trial by fire and the greatness
Though this wasn’t the only problem. The maestro’s form was nowhere to be found with an individual score of 36 prior to the Antiguan antique being his best score.
Yet, at the end of it all, Lara prevailed and England were sent to the cleaners during West Indies’s 750-plus score.
A year prior to his record shattering quadruple Test ton, Lara announced his big comeback onto the international stage by carving a 116 against the Proteas in 2003’s most glitzy cricketing event: the ICC ODI World Cup.
Not only did the batting genius from Santa Cruz pull off an ace against one of the strongest contenders of that year’s World Cup, Lara rescued a side that really wasn’t going anywhere and that too, against Klusener, Pollock and Donald.
Yet, we can’t truly restrict our love for Lara’s talent in just his ability to come good against big sides, such as a South Africa or an Australia.
Lara’s instinct for domination and the ability to fight fire with fire was what truly magnified his greatness.
Lest it is forgotten, Lara did so despite featuring in a team that was anything but world class. On the contrary, many of his peaks came at a time where it seemed just what were the West Indies doing.
As a matter of fact that Lara seldom complained despite being part of a team that was weak and when not, then uncompetitive and often times, unremarkably average made him a standout.
The more the West Indies’ ship seemed to sink, the greater became Lara’s desire to rescue the vessel.
Every outing then, whether one remembers the Wills 1996 World Cup knock of 111 against South Africa or the Sharjah heroics such as his 169 or the triumphant 213 v the Aussies at Jamaica (1998-99) became the hallmarks of courage under pressure.
Few batsmen have so ardently and yet so vehemently denied their team’s naysayers as Brian Lara of the West Indies.
The team Lara shone amid
Surely, the team that witnessed Lara’s rise had Hopper, Chanderpaul, Ambrose and Walsh.
But more often than not, it all came down to Lara standing between the opponents and victory.
Picture the tri series featuring England and Pakistan in Sharjah in the nineties where a Lara special against a Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis-led attack dented the confidence of the trailblazing sub-continental side.
Forget not the fact that during the 2002 tour to Sri Lanka, Brian Lara carved 40 percent of his team’s output of runs, scoring 688 on his own from just 3 Test appearances.
Surely, if he could he’d have bowled his heart out as well for his West Indies. But what he could do, he did with a sense of relentlessness, which was hammering Vaas and Murali single-handedly during attacking knocks such as that 221 and the 130, wherein while his West Indies team floundered, Lara was giving it back royally to the hosts.
And yet, it’s painful and somber to think that during his time the West Indies capitulated to such damning lows on the cricket field that the cricket tragic was perhaps coaxed into questioning- did Lara’s heroics do nothing to inspire the rest of the side.
The question of inspiration
Perhaps it’s a valid question that deserves some answering especially in the current standing of the game in the Caribbean.
It’s a catchy situation where on the one hand there are talents like Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder, Kyle Mayers and Evin Lewis very much around.
But what’s also present is the ever lasting feeling that the West Indies cricket isn’t going anywhere; that it is continuing to hit a solid rock bottom when truth is there’s no vacuum of inspiration present back home.
One wonders what might the thoughts of Sir Viv, Sir Sobers, the great Haynes and Greenidge and needless to tell, Brian Lara be when they see the current day batters flounder against spin and go weak against quality fast bowling.
Have the heroes of the past done not enough to inspire a revolution among the present generation talents?
Regardless, while this is a debate that can linger around endlessly, what doesn’t, in fact, points to a direction of certainty.
And it’s that during his time, Lara managed to embody greatness amid a disappointing climate of West Indian defeats.
His regaling of the crowds well into his swansong years, where as a 35-year-old he was found hitting one handed sixes during his 153 run knock va Pakistan in the 2005 VB series serves evidence of greatness.
Did Brian Lara entertain?
They point to the fact that the legends don’t admonish without trying and yet, even after giving it all, are left with a sense of doubt whether they did enough.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that one of Cricket’s geniuses asked of the keen Barbadian crowed in 2007 during his farewell knock if, “I entertained?”
Well, Brian Lara, it ought to be said, you didn’t just entertain; you reminded us all that while many can make records only a few can lift our spirits.
And for doing that time and again especially with your West Indies’ backs turned to the wall, we tip our hat to you.