Stylish and elegant, mentally tough and attacking. These aren’t just any random sobriquets of respect adorning their subject but real virtues which make Brian Lara a standout character in modern day cricket.
The holder of the highest individual test score(400 not out) and the highest first class score(501) made by an individual in first-class cricket, Lara is a word that concocts ecstasy and pain, speaks of redemption and comeback and, spells jubilation wherever he’s remembered.
Cricket’s Fluent Poet
Nicknamed the ‘Prince’, Brian Charles Lara who celebrates his 47th birthday on May 2, brought tremendous joy to fans around the world with his wizardry with the bat. Beginning his international career in 1993 and bowing out in 2007 at the eve of West Indies’ poor running in the world cup they hosted, Lara amassed over 10,000 runs in both tests and limited over cricket, smashed 53 centuries and 111 fifties and stood tall as West Indies’ highest century maker in Tests with 34 outstanding hundreds.
Lara was both, a prolific run scorer and a lonely warrior who fought for the West Indies, saving them from adversaries time and again with his majestic showings with the bat. While he moved fans and re-wrote history books with his prodigious run scoring, the word pain accompanies his career simply because Lara’s meteoric rise in the late 90s and early 2000s came at the backdrop of a spiral decline in West Indies’ fortunes.
He was their mainstay at no.3 in limited over cricket and their most dependable warrior at no.4 in tests. But as he scored heavily against Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and England, many of Lara’s milestones came with the West Indies being in distraught situations, from where they would either succumb to despair or at best, manage to elevate themselves to hold on to unlikely draws and rare wins. And, the constructor of their changed fortunes would mostly be one man: Lara himself, helped tremendously by bowling spearheads Walsh and Ambrose.
Now in his late 40s but still commanding headlines wherever he goes, we relook at the great memories of Lara, both as a person and as a phenomenal batsman and reflect on why he is so loved.
1. Bouncing Back From Adversities
Lara, ever a dashing batsman took his opponents head on in both tests and limited over cricket. He held interesting and thrilling duels with leading bowling luminaries of international cricket such as Australia’s Glen McGrath, Sri Lanka’s Muralitharan, South Africa’s Shaun Pollock and Alan Donald and, England’s Andrew Flintoff.
But the scorer of many magnificent knocks that have gone down in history as some of test cricket’s greatest innings, suffered by the poor decline of his national side, the West Indies.
Often contending with the fact that apart from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the only talented and dependable batsman alongside him, Lara’s solo knocks came amidst a vulnerable West Indies set up that lacked both experience and often talent. New players lacking the appetite to put up a big fight such as Lara himself did the team no good and other than spurts of occasional brilliance, by the likes of Darren Ganga, Wavell Hinds, Stuart Williams and others, there wasn’t much that Lara could do.
His captaincy of West Indies soon came under the fray of doubters with many baying for Lara’s blood in the test debacles of late 1990s and early 2000s, especially in the dismal Windies showing overseas in South Africa and Australia.
But, Lara wasn’t a man who’d give up. A special quality of a genius is when he can stand up from despair and perform and Lara, through his majestic double hundreds at Sri Lanka, South Africa and against the Aussies did just that. His 153 vs Australia at Bridgetown in 1999 and that resurgent 176 vs South Africa in South Africa followed by his ballistic centuries in Sri Lanka under Hooper’s captaincy did his fortunes a world of good.
2. The Man Who Tamed Australia
Much of the reason behind Lara’s honorary citizenship grant by the Australian government owes itself to the fact that Lara held an interesting, intricate bond with Australia.
Back in 1993, in his first ever tour to Australia, Lara made headlines for his scintillating 277 at Sydney. This first test hundred which was actually a double hundred was the first indication of Lara’s love for playing long innings.
Lara’s most memorable test knock, also acknowledged by Wisden’s best Test hundred list was a phenomenal 153* at Bridgetown in Barbados. Fighting fire to fire with Warne, Gillespie and McGrath, Lara gave Windies an unlikely edge over Steve Waugh’s domineering Aussies as he produced a scorching thriller under the intense heat of the Barbados sun, scampering home to a 1 wicket win with a boxing inning. In the second test of the same series (1998-99), Lara rose with a majestic 213 at Jamaica.
His fighting knock came at a time when all wanted Lara’s name to be chopped off the test block and captaincy cauldron for Windies had lost 5 successive tests just recently at South Africa.
Later in his career, on a tour to Australia, Lara would break Alan Border’s record for highest test tally in Border’s very own Australia. His mammoth 226 at Adelaide in 2005 took him to top of the charts in tests for maximum runs scored by an individual.
Throughout his career, Lara held titanic battles with classy bowlers of the skill of Warne and McGrath and scored heavily against the two.
3. Scoring Heavily Overseas
For a test batsman, greatness doesn’t alone lie in the number of hundreds stacked up in record books. It is vital to score as fluently abroad on tours as one would in the comfort of home conditions.
The Prince from Trinidad and Tobago kept up with fans’ expectations from his batting and with his own appetite to score heavily by constructing monumental knocks abroad.
From 66 tests, Lara scored a whopping 5736 runs in foreign tours at an impressive average of 60. Several of his scintillating hundreds were compiled in Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan. During 2002-03 tour to Lanka, Lara commanded headlines by scoring 688 runs in a 3 match series.
Doggedly determined and refusing to retract from the path to greatness, Lara’s scores of 176 in South Africa, his 226 in Australia and 216 against Pakistan made him the Dark Knight of West Indies.
4. Popularity in Asia
Ever since his retirement in 2007, he’s made several trips to India and beyond. At times promoting cricket in Dehradun, Dhaka and Mumbai, Lara has championed many social causes, trained budding cricketers, even promoted Trinidad and Tobago tourism in Jaipur, met with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and been part of several panel discussions promoting test cricket in a bid to revive the game’s longest format amidst the T20 fever.
Lara, who shares a great bond with Sachin Tendulkar has supported Sachin’s former Mumbai Indians in his frequent outings to India during the IPL. Shoaib Akhtar has held his former battles on the pitch with Lara as duels he holds close to his heart and in fact called Lara as the greatest adversary he ever faced, resonating Glenn McGrath’s feelings about the Trinidadian.
5. Brian Lara – An All Time Enigma
The word Lara isn’t just synonymous with cricket records or peaks of batting. Lara is an emotion. Lara is a bookmark on a page that has mental toughness printed in bold.
Lara is an actionable verb that reflects greatness.
Lara on song meant that West Indies’ adversaries were never going to have it easy and Lara in pure action made for scintillating heights that suggested statistical accomplishments but also a rich harvest of devotion and hard work.
In many ways, Lara’s legend will only grow, and continue to inspire lives in the times to come. Take a bow Brian!