Ever thought what we miss in cricket today? Despite a lot of terrific young players currently showcasing their prodigious talent, one thing which I miss personally is the artistry of the great Brian Lara. The Trinidadian Prince was no doubt arguably the greatest batsman of his generation. But that’s my view. Yours could be different and I regard that. Here’s why I feel Lara was a cut about his rest. When was the last time you found a batsman moonlighting as a warrior? Or, a batsman who exhibited a Da Vinci showpieces through his epic constructions- 400 or that 153 or even the 82-ball 100 in 1998?
Lara was a flair player with a batting style that was unorthodox yet mighty effective. And when in full flow, he was the most attractive player to watch. Little wonder why cricket lovers have always picked him as one they’ll pay to watch.
Brian’s high backlift, dancing footwork and the follow- through after hitting the ball was a great sight in cricket. To me, this was a vintage holiday spot- you could stay under the soothing highlight of his holiday home. Time and again. Sadly, that style can’t be coached and that’s what makes him so special. I began admiring Lara during the 1992 World Cup when he impressed everyone with his tremendous stroke play. But to be honest, I really started following him from that 1998 controversial and disastrous tour of South Africa. There was Donald, there was Pollock and an attacking Proteas side waiting to humble West Indies. But one man decided- he won’t give up without a fight- classic Lara character. Windies lost almost every game barring the one ODI under Brian’s captaincy.
Runs weren’t coming from his blade. As a result, Windies were capitulating in almost every matches.
But Brian indulged in a feisty bit of counter-attack and that proved South Africa were up against someone special. Donald had his hand on his head. Proteas didn’t know what to do. A flick off the mid-wicket, a punch through the covers- Lara back then was a sorcerer.
When you talk about Brian Lara- you have to take few more things into consideration to judge his credentials as a batsman and leader. The things you got to look into is the situation in which he amassed so many runs despite playing for a weak team which neither had the best batting line-up nor world class bowlers. His cricketing career was a rollercoaster ride and can be classified into three phases. The first phase was when he burst onto the scene with an imperious 277 at SCG against Australia. Many still regard this innings as his best ever. After making such a great test match hundred, he immediately became the lynchpin of Windies batting line-up. He took that responsibility admirably by scoring consistently for a couple of more years during which he broke two longstanding batting records held by Sir sobers (365 not out) and Hanif Mohammad’s 499.
To me, this was a moment that could’ve been compared to a body-builder pushing long standing records off the cliff of a mountain.
He soon became cricket’s new superstar and the pressures started to mount on him a bit too much. He lost his way for a while. People started to criticise him for not being that consistent. And let’s face it- he wasn’t. Barring the series against England in 1995 where he was adjudged man of the series- he didn’t do anything to note about for next few years. Windies were losing series after series which that heartbreaking the 5-0 drubbing against the Proteas.
It was now or never for Lara. This is when us fans got a fresh lease of life with Lara picking up himself. Only more attractive that his comeback was forged vs Aussies- then the best. First, he struck a superb 213 to inspire the team to victory in Jamaica. He followed that innings by perhaps playing the greatest Test innings ever. If you were at Barbados you had your heart in the mouth. If you were as I was in a sunny India- you had your heart in mouth. Lara eclipsed the boundaries between him and the world, between love and despair.
He didn’t stop there either. Next up, he bludgeoned the Aussie attack with an 82- ball hundred at Antigua. These three great hundreds helped Windies square the series against the mighty Australians. There was a turnaround and that man was on top of things. I wondered what was Lara holding in the hand- a bat or a sword?
Soon after, Windies went to England for World Cup where they got eliminated in the first round with Lara struggling. Following a resignation from captaincy, he took a break from cricket to rebuild all facets of his game in order to sustain his career.
There were rumours that Lara may never return. But the world would’ve become a poorer sight without Lara’s aesthetics in the middle. I thought that way. Then, against England in June 2000, again looking edgy, you could see, he was moved to bounce back. Soon, against the Aussies- he saw Vintage Lara. Dancing down the track like a free-wheeling hippy to Warne and punishing McGrath- he made it up through a majestic 182 at Adelaide.
Next up, the Lara caravan experienced a truncated run. He skipped a triangular series in Zimbabwe in August 2001 due to a hamstring injury. All said that time that a fit Brian Lara is still capable of being the best. But by then, there were as many doubters as admirers. Personally, for me here, this is his life’s third phase. When everyone was saying that he had passed his best Lara announced loud and clear, “the best is yet to come.” This wasn’t a misinforming view. He travelled to the land of peace in Sri Lanka and asserted violence with his blade. By annihilating wily Murali and Chaminda Vaas in their backyard, Lara produced a show-stopping 688 runs in just 3 Tests. Just 3.
But in the second wind of Lara, there were injuries that were becoming a shadow. Just when it lookedhe is really rejuvenated to dominate world cricket again, an on-field collision with Attapatu resulted in shoulder-dislocation. After the injury, he struggled for form and had a couple of mediocre series.
Brian also missed the later part of 2002 due to illness. Hepatitis B marring him this time. But upon each slice of misfortune, Lara kept coming harder and harder. Brian came back in the team for the 2003 world cup and boy- could it have gotten any better?
He struck a memorable hundred to beat South Africa in the opening match of the tournament. In that 2003 effort, familiar signs were felt. King Lara is back- newspapers said. Brian got the captaincy for the second time after the World Cup and that spurred him on to revive Windies’ fortunes with his sublime batting. Sadly during the 2004-2005 years, Lara lacked bowlers who would win his side games. It was the familiar sight- a single-handed Lara against the best in the world.
Then, something special for Aussie cricket happened. As a fan, I was gutted to see Matt Hayden- a legend nonetheless- breaking Lara’s 375. But could anyone have kept Lara out of action? He reclaimed it in style when he scored 400 not out- a record that stands unchallenged, unmoved for 14 years- against his old foes England and saved his team from humiliation. Due to some contract issues, he lost the captaincy to Chanderpaul but that not deterred him from scoring five test centuries in 2005.
Out of these five centuries, one was a superb double ton against his favorite opponent Australia which made him the highest run-getter in the history of Test cricket surpassing the great Allan Border. Interestingly, Lara scaled his new peak in Border-land.
He had the desire to play Tests until the age of 40 but he announced retirement after a disappointing World Cup in the Caribbean. It was a sad day for all his fans because cricket lost the greatest entertainer in the history of cricket.
But Lara’s spirit lives on each time a tear is shed on seeing the current downing of Windies- reminding one of hope that had Lara been there- a calamity would not have happened.