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Brian Lara: The last Lion from the West Indies

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Brian_Lara_West_Indies_cricketThe time was around a couple of hours post noon. The venue was Bridgetown Barbados’ Kensington

Oval. The contest was one of those atypical dead rubber games with the home side West Indies taking on an ever competitive England. The date was April 21, 2007 but there was something about it which was truly historic and momentous. The sun was shining, the heat was heavy and it was all simmering around the stadium. Having batted first, the home side Windies did get to a good start but eventually saw at the fall of the first wicket, Brian Charles Lara take on the mighty English. Only this time they were all standing in an arch created to respect the great man and not lined up looking attacking to claim his wicket. But what was the reason for the gentlemanly show after all? Well, all one could say then and all one remembers now and shall with a heavy heart, it was the last ever appearance of batting great Brian Lara. Yes, he would not be seen ever again after that one last inning, and quite like the outcome of most of the West Indian games that Lara was a part of, ever casting his huge shadow of greatness upon it, this last encounter too saw the home side lose, even though the margin was that of a painful single run. Although within a minute of the end of the contest, the spectators around the stadium as almost certainly around the world, had forgotten that West Indies had lost the game. All one would recall was that cricket had lost one of its truly magnanimous names. It’s been a mighty 7 years since then and Lara’s absence still reminds one of his great presence.

Talking of all great achievements of his astonishing career is just as difficult as impossible it is to contain within a few pages, the legendary tales of his might and genius show, a show that paraded on roads of glory from 1990 onward and struck glory all around till it came to its final swansong in 2007.

The high backlift, the almost 90 degree perpendicular frame whilst batting off the pitch, the flashing grin and the low key frame prepared to unravel a monstrous rage to conquer, all conjure up the hallmark style and reminder of the modus operandi of Brian Lara’s operation in a game.

Nothing against the fans of Gayle and Bravo but one has to admit, back in those days, during the champion batsman’s reign,there was just no star as meteoric and mighty as Brian Charles Lara. Let's wind the clocks back a little and remember 1992. It was against Australia that year in Sydney batting against the likes of Warne, Mcgrath, Reifel, Mcdermott and co. that Lara constructed an epic 277. This was a feat that ultimately saw him being run out, thus ruling out any indication of the combined bowling strength managing to get the better of him. Lara proved dangerous in this knock and it started a series of affairs with long innings. It is thrilling to note that Brian has around 19 knocks in Test cricket wherein he managed to go past 150 runs.

It can be a fleeting moment of glory to note that the American President calls on to you to meet you in person or if the Indian PM waits almost in a cue to shake hands with you, but all come to surface with reality when you are a certain Brian Charles Lara from Trinidad. The above mentioned instances are just one of the outcomes of Lara’s global foothold owing to his extraordinary genius. Other glories include the sprawling cricket stadium at Antigua named after him, the Brian Lara promenade at Port of Spain and the Bronze statue made in his honour right outside the Port of Spain airport. In 1994, Brian overtook fellow legend Sobers’ 365 which was then the highest individual Test  score and went on to score a dynamite 375 versus the English at Antigua. Records and more of them came knocking on Lara’s door after that. He scored a mammoth 501 for Warwickshire versus Durham. Lara was unstoppable then.

The sad reality was that Lara never quite had the capable support. And alas, along with his personal highs in the game, Lara always went back from an encounter having to reel under the shadow and pressure of an underperforming and frail looking West Indian side. Nevertheless, whatever the challenge and howsoever be the opposition, on his day, Lara was always prepared and ready to keep the West Indian flag raising high. Before the last ever ODI he played, this is what Lara said to a Barbados national daily- “I have been knocked down both as a player and as a person many times in my career. But I have always bounced back. It is a family trait”.

Brian Lara later in his career, captained the side to some never experienced before stooping loss of glories and then came a phase where one couldn’t expect the similar Lara-esque glories as the world had witnessed earlier. Till about 2003, Lara just didn’t seemed to be the same player the game had witnessed before. But enter 2004 and things had begun to change. West Indian journalist Venessa Baksh had rightly hailed the Prince of Trinidad as the “keeper of the flame” during her epic tribute to Lara in the summers of 2004 upon the completion of the test series between England and West Indies. This was a series that would be remembered for many reasons. First, that Windies were literally made to reel on their toes in a manner they have never seen before in Test cricket at home.  Second, Captain Lara's form had been so poor that before he could regain the lost element, he could only score a 34 as his best knock. And third, that at Antigua, one of Lara’s monstrously successful hunting grounds, an individual score of 400 not out was scored within a time frame of one and a half days, with 43 boundaries, 4 sixes and 700 mins of great concentration by Brian Lara.

No other batsman in modern day game has singlehandedly enriched the game in such a fashion. In his entire lifetime of batting, and fighting to keep the glory of West Indies cricket alive, he scored 30 % of the entire team’s runs with him scoring a gladiatorish 40% of the entire side’s runs on an away series in Sri Lanka, in duels where he scored magnificent knocks of 221, 175 and 130. He scored one of Wisden’s personal favorite innings of 153 at home in Barbados during a crunch summer jam series against the mighty Aussies, and followed it up with a glamorous 100 at Jamaica.

It is safest to conclude that the difference between the outcome of a game with West Indies and any rival team featuring many greats would simply be Brain Charles Lara. But sadly, not many remember his contribution to the game and in elevating the status of his side apart from his heroics of the bat. It was Brian Lara first who spotted the talent in Ramnaresh Sarwan and managed to induct him into the national side. The decision to continue playing with Bangladesh even as other teams avoided the minnows was Lara’s as he thought of them as a future potential power who needed necessary guidance from other sides. Chanderpaul’s slow batting never went down well with the team management at the Caribbean but had it not been for Lara’s spoken word of praise for the Guyanese, the national side would have actually decided to go on without him and Windies cricket would have gone on to lose many future battles. Lara first concocted the batting pair of Wavell Hinds with Chris Gayle and in promising the latter a permanent side and a role in the national team, Lara played a great role. Present day power forces in the form of both Bravo brothers have trained and have learned the nuances of the game under the guidance of the mighty guardian.

As the Prince of Trinidad turns 44 having decorated the game with some timeless jewels, the mind runs back to the time of the final game at the 2007 World Cup in Barbados at the post match presentation. Lara in his boyish baritone amidst hundreds of crying voices in the park asked of the spectators who had gathered to witness his final swansong, ”Did I entertain”…. ??

Well Brian, you did, you bloody well did. Hail, the Prince of Trinidad!



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