Definition of a good player? Someone who makes lots of runs.
So who’s a great player? Someone who makes lots of runs all the time?
Though, the moment Brian Lara pops into the discussion, it spices up the whole thing.
It appears almost meaningless to fiddle with sub-heads like good or great.
They don’t apply to some. Imagine the chief guest who doesn’t need an entry pass.
The occasion belongs to him.
It appears that no bracket is big enough to contain cricket’s enigmatic genius.
For some birds can’t be caged even if the containment is huge or gilded.
Maybe largely because no other player toyed with cricket’s possibilities the way Brian Lara did.
No one changed our perception about all that batting could do as the man described as cricket’s “troubled genius.“
When you thought to hit 277 versus Warne and McDermott was impossible, along came Brian Lara to prove “Yes, it is.”
Not only that; he showed it was possible for an inexperienced bat to go beyond 250, in fact, nearly touch 300 (his debut hundred) and that too, against Australia.
Because most only made runs.
Only a few, like Sir Viv, Sir Sobers added music and lyrics to run-scoring.
Most batted albeit with great concentration and power. But only a few made batting look like an art-form, giving a grinding activity, a touch of class, an artistic virtuosity.
This is why when you read writers comparing Lara’s caressing blade or captivating footwork to a ballerina’s precise movements, you nod in appreciation.
You don’t sigh in disbelief.
His 153, his 100 off 82 all have traces of that artistic grandeur.
Yet, make no mistake.
For all his magic, Brian Lara wasn’t cricket’s most consistent batsman.
You’d put your life on a Dravid. As did Lara upon retirement. Lara had phases where the bat went silent.
Yet, he did something none have matched and maybe never will.
True to his knack of surprising us about the possibilities of batsmanship, when he broke childhood-hero Gary Sobers’ record by amassing 375, all thought this was it.
What else could he possibly do to gather more records?
But they were wrong; there was more to follow.
45 days following Antigua’s high, Lara conquered a feat no fan, pundit or commentator would’ve deemed possible.
So when Brian Charles Lara of Cantaro village, Port of Spain struck 501 (off just 427 balls) for Warwickshire against Durham, in his first major county stint, not only did he score Cricket’s first (and thus far) only quintuple hundred but managed to carry his bat.
Philosophically speaking, the “not out” at the end of a humongous score is perhaps an ode to Brian Lara’s spirit; undefeated, unconquered.
Maybe that’s why, 26 years after its inception, the 501 stands unsurpassed like a summit too big for a climber to scale.
And it also conveys a thing about the stature of its architect- who did to records what Michelangelo did during ethereal Renaissance artworks- that he’s an enigma.
But Lara’s 501 mustn’t be appreciated merely for him hitting five centuries in one go.
You’ve got to credit his magnitude of concentration. The ability to bat for nearly two days in an era where cricket was still a lot about the bowler.
O boy, what stamina.
It suggests, above anything else, Lara’s love for batting, where akin to a trader who strikes a magnificent deal, Lara dealt only in world records.
Yet, there’s more.
Implicit in his famous knocks- that 153*, the 213, that 400* and even in his criminally-underrated 122 (against Australia with Brett Lee in 2003), was his love of going out there and expressing himself.
What makes Lara’s 501 so daunting just as it’s utterly attractive is the authority of his bat.
Was it possible for a batsman to score five tons in one knock and yet end up with a strike rate northwards of 100?
Doubters and critics rewind to that scoreboard, which in itself, has become a seasoned wallpaper on many workstations and gadgets.
It points to a strike rate of 117.
While Lara took just 427 balls- which alone warrants our appreciation for the length of time he spent batting and just batting- how can one ignore 62 fours and 10 sixes?
Sachin might have 100 hundreds.
And that’s a mind-numbing achievement. Ponting, Kallis, Dravid may have ended up with more Test runs than the West Indian.
But none have managed to strike a triple hundred.
Perhaps Lara’s rarity stems from the very fact that he’s the only batsman to have hit a hundred, double hundred, triple hundred, and Test cricket’s only quadruple century and world cricket’s only quintuple ton.
A lot is said about what was a “lucky inning!”
When Chris Scott dropped Lara early on, it was Durham’s big loss.
Not Lara’s fault. Like any opportunistic batsman eager to make amends, Lara went on and on and on.
Post the fortunate drop, the one-sided county match would become only about the flamboyant strikes over cover, toward point and the lofted shots over mid-wicket and long-on.
They indicated the panzer tank that ran over Durham’s clueless fielders could well launch surface-to-air missiles like an astonishing aviator.
Batsmen, there’ve been many.
With Virat and Smith going the way they are, batting once again has unfurled a turf war that’s largely about dominance.
Cricket has again become the great contest it once was in Sachin and Brian’s time.
Yet despite the ups and downs- questions raised of his captaincy, the dreaded clean sweeps enjoyed by South Africa over West Indies, and times where he found himself staring at a world that seemed too eager to dismiss him- Lara had that magic that no other batsman had.
Something divergent generations desire to possess and hail Lara for holding.
It’s that ability to bounce back, something which when happened, birthed milestones as epic as the 501* in 1994.
Something that none thought could happen. Something that may not recur anytime soon.