If you think that the reason why Brian Lara, ‘The Prince of Trinidad,’ but the king of breaking enigmatic world records is hailed for his high statistical output, then perhaps you don’t know enough about the Trinidadian.
Each time where he was cornered and found himself amid adversity, he’d find a way to bounce back- since crawling out of situations was never him- made Brian Lara a batsman like no other.
Described as a prolific-scorer, cricket’s most fashionable gift for fans, the epitome of batsmanship, and even a confluence of art and style, one wonders if Brian Lara would’ve also made it a successful designer or decorator since artistry was what he excelled at, on the 22 yards.
But must we remember that no great monument or work of art was completed instantaneously; and that, at times, the greatest success of an artist lay in the challenges he overcome to paint the creation of his life.
History has documented it and you and I can go wrong, but true events cannot.
It took the iconic Leonardo Da Vinci four painstaking years to complete the portrait for which millions flock to Paris- the Mona Lisa.
Interestingly, it took the ardent devotee to his craft, Michelangelo also four back-to-back years, a phase during which he’d weather health scares and utter financial constraints to complete the paintings at the ceiling of the sistine chapel.
Modigliani, battled bouts of alcoholism throughout his life to complete his famous works, underlined by simplified facial features, eyes without pupils.
And make no mistake, West Indies’ gift to Cricket, an artist among batsmen, Brian Lara too battled many a storm during his tour Down Under, including inner turmoil to sculpt what remains to this day, one of his finest creations, albeit miles away from home and in Australia’s own den.
But no introduction to a nail-biter can happen minus a prologue.
The year was 2000.
The Australians were growing in performance and in their command over the game akin to the mighty Hulk, a force of nature against whom no restraining order can ever work.
They were looking forward to the West Indians akin to a famished eater eyeing a buffet meal.
On the other hand, by the same year, the West Indies had hit a period of decline that was about as certain as getting one’s hands wet when placing them under an open tap.
Yes, the mighty talented Sarwan was a new commodity, but still very much unbeknownst to the nuances of competing at the Test level, which can be often more exasperating than rewarding.
No more the powerhouse of World Cricket, having sensed the inevitable, with Ambrose not around Down Under and with an ageing Courtney Walsh (playing his last series in Aus), this was a side that seemed like a reluctant batch of tourists forcefully seat-belted on a plane that would land them to a turf where they’d embrace the molten lava called Australia with bare hands.
Though there was batting talent on offer- in Campbell, Ganga, Jimmy Adams the captain- but with no Carl Hooper- the side seemed brittle against an opponent camp featuring the mighty Waugh brothers, Ponting, Martyn, Hayden, and Langer.
Understandably so, all eyes in the West Indies camp looked in one direction.
Toward Brian Charles Lara of Port of Spain; batsman extraordinaire, magical run-maker, miracle worker, shamanistic in his domination of bowlers, a predator who had previously polished off Australians with glee.
And in here lay an issue.
To exacerbate their woes, their prime answer to Australian goonery- Brian Lara, world’s highest individual scorer of Tests (375)- was in anything but menacing form, the likes of which one had seen in the past summer.
Why goonery because despite possessing world class talents, the Australians at their peak (2000s) excelled in the undesirable and vicious act of sledging. Exchanging a word here or there of sarcasm can be discounted as a harmless joke.
But offering full expletives, which later Lara himself revealed, continued throughout the 5-Test series made the experience for the West Indians more somber than they would’ve liked.
Up first, a context.
To this day, ask any Lara or cricket fan about his greatest recollection of the left-hander, and nine in ten would answer sporting a smile- 153 undefeated runs, Barbados, Bridgetown, 1999, in fact, the entire series.
But the lean, mean bowling-killing machine Brian Lara, on this tour, came at the back of a few problems, one of which was a bit of excess weight around the girth.
It became known later that Lara, no longer the captain he had been in the tremendously successful home summer of 1999, was also consulting a psychologist in the US for mental conditioning.
It’s a fool’s errand to safely believe that every sword-wielder just possesses power and finesse or that they don’t bore any scars.
Moreover, not in his sublimely touch as evident before, unfounded and unbecoming allegations of match-fixing, which had been levied on him that Brian Lara did well enough to throw aside (exclaiming upon arrival in Australia, “I won’t let them bother me,”) also played a part in downing the spirits.
Though not a man to quit, Lara began battling despite having no idea what was to come in the first of the two Tests.
With scores of a golden duck and 4, followed by a first-ball-duck and 17 (off 33), Lara was overseeing a series that was anything but in West Indies’ control.
By the time, the First two games got over, Australians had only whet the appetites of their fans, enforcing an innings defeat on the West Indians in both games.
After witnessing a serving of back-breaking hammering in Brisbane and Perth, Hobart provided a moment of reprieve to the Prince of Trinidad, and a great source of joy to fans, who’d hoped perhaps against hope that their team would still defeat the Australians.
Before Brian Lara entered the Third Test, slated for Adelaide he participated in tour game against Australia A.
The prelude to what was to follow in Third Test rather the seeds of Lara’s genius in next contest had already been sown in this particular four-dayer, by none other than Cricket’s genius force.
With a highest score of 17 on this very tour, Brian Lara, contesting with a slight back niggle and the awareness that he wasn’t anywhere near his best, fired a scud missile into the Australian dugout, one featuring Damien Martyn as captain, with Jamie Cox and Jimmy Maher as the openers. The batting line-up, not to forget, also featuring Hodge and Katich.
But being his own man, Lara locked horns against an attack comprising Matthew Inness, Andy Bichel and Don Nash to score a scorcher of a double hundred.
The greats, they do it differently, don’t they? Every time where it seems the end is near, they jump out of nowhere to take a giant leap.
The only contest in that utterly forgettable West Indian tour that didn’t see a defeat, even if in a tour game, came at the back of Lara’s unanticipated genius.
A famous tale that deserves to reach the fan is that in an over after lunch, Lara fired Bichel for six consecutive boundaries. And having founded some touch, he was ready to face Australia again for the Third Test, with their bowlers, most noticeably Glenn McGrath prepared to strike not just with the red ball in hand but utterly regrettable verbal expletives that could so easily have been avoided.
This is precisely when what Lara achieved, rather crafted to perfection a monument, which also brought to life a statement that has, time and again, been told and defines the human spirit.
“Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to have an undeniable breakthrough.”
Perhaps not a single West Indian, until such time, on the tour had not been subjected to a constant string of diatribe by the Aussies, Brian Lara, not in the least.
Yet, he was prepared to fire to fire and put his head down to carve 182 very special runs at Adelaide Oval, off just 235 deliveries, scoring a daddy hundred that was perhaps just as suave as his 213 against the same opponent a year and a half ago.
When Brian Lara reached his fifty in that inning, courtesy a crunching cover drive, discarding breezy elegance for an occasion, all that remained was pin-drop silence on the lanky McGrath’s frustrated face, with Lara sporting the elan of a don ruling out there, though minus any shenanigans.
The flowing cover drives had returned, as had the magical sweeps and rasp cuts, square of the wicket.
An inning laced with 29 boundaries, this was a different Lara- determined and domineering, unwilling to give his wicket to McGrath, who interestingly remained wicket-less in the first inning.
In a sport where success is measured by impact, Lara’s 182 fancy runs, though couldn’t save his team from the blues but significantly reduced the quantum of defeat; West Indies going down by 5 wickets, the hero scoring 221 in the game alone.
Though, throughout the tour, duels with McGrath, Gillespie the least treacherous practitioner of lip-service, continued, as did Lara’s poor scores.
A duck would follow in the fourth-Test and managing 63 runs from the final Sydney Test ended a miserable tour of West Indies where besides Lara’s 182, there really wasn’t anything to write home about.
Except one incident that truly epitomised the lows to which a very verbal Australia had stooped. Here’s proof of it:
Toward the fag end of the tour, cricketer Marlon Black, then just 26, was attacked by four men outside a bar in Melbourne, as men armed with a wooden bat thought it to be decent behaviour in attacking a cricketer who could so easily have lost his life too!
On a tour where Lara, out of ten innings, scored 321 runs, of which he hammered 182 in a single stroke of genius, one wondered was the lack of consistency the only worry of the misdemeanour of the Australians.
Lara was also fingered by the Australians who, prior to him coming out to bat in the Third Test, retorted against his double hundred (Australia A) alluding to the point that it was an inning against not a full-blown Australian side and that anyone could do it.
Was that conduct expected of world’s premier sporting bastion in the game?
Wasn’t Lara still in fine touch, despite not scoring in heaps and volumes?
Note, despite scoring three naughts, Lara kept fighting fire to fire, knowing nothing about what it meant to back down.
Note- this article has been co-authored by Brian Lara’s devoted fan from India, Prashant Kumar Banjare and Dev Tyagi