Yesterday, the curtain was finally drawn on one of the most glittering career in modern-day cricket !!! For 16 years now, Brian Charles Lara from the Carribean island of Trinidad and Tobago has entertained millions all over the world with his unique dish of batsmanship, a mesmerising blend of stunning hand-eye co-ordination and supreme timing and added to it, a dash of genius. Indeed, while he might have been just one of the best batsman in the world, he is, without doubt, the greatest entertainer the cricket world has known in the past 2 decades (Sachin, Ponting et al included) , a mantle he inherited from his fellow carribean great Sir Viv Richards.
The first notice he gave to the cricketing world was way back in 1989, when, as a 19-year old, he cracked 150 in a tour game against the visting Indian team. He just about missed getting into the Windies squad then (too bad, for it would have meant seeing Sir Viv and Lara in tandem, just imagine what both in full-flow would have done too the bowlers). But it did not take him too long for him to break through into the international squad, which he did in 1990. While he had a fairly successful World Cup in 1992, it was not until Sydney in Jan 1993, that he finally arrived on the world stage. The Aussies had seen a rare talent the summer before (exactly a year before, Sachin Tendulkar hit a majestic 148 at the SCG) and this time around, the SCG crowd was privileged to see another talent bloom. His first test hundred was a monstrous 277, ended only when he was run out. Sobers's record was under threat right from those days, and soon it would fall. Lara always reserved his best against the Aussies, a hallmark of great players, who flower against the best opposition. Apart from his 277, there was that trio of genuis-filled centuries in 1999, each one of them as good as the other. The 153 he scored then took the Windies to a 1-wicket victory and was adjudged the 2nd best innings of all time. The South Africans also felt the heat, centuries in the 1996 and 2003 WC by Lara knocked them out the first time, and started their slide in 2003.
Lara played and prospered against the best of them. Except for McGrath, no-one can claim to have got Lara's number. His mastery over Muralitharan in 2001 was another highlight of his career, where he scored 678 runs in 3 tests, but sadly, could not save his team losing all of them. Other bowlers, whether it be Warne, Vaas, Shoaib, Lee or Harbhajan have also suffered at his hands. Add to that, his appetite for scoring monsterous hundreds. To reclaim the record for highest individual score after it was taken away from him was the hallmark of one of the best, if not the best.
Lara in full flow was a real sight. It all started with that lovely back lift. As the bowler ran in to bowl, the base of the bat was almost touching his left shoulder. As the ball was released, it came down in a beautiful arc, ready to meet the ball at the sweet spot at the exact time. The next thing you knew, the ball was almost at the fence. When in song, the other delightful aspect of watching him was seeing him get on his toes, indeed jump sometimes, and hit the ball airborne through point or covers. And he could just as well dance down the track and, with the same beautiful arc of his bat, send the ball sailing over the fence for yet another six. All in all, someone whom you could pay and watch anytime, anywhere !! Incidentally, I remember a game that I had gone to the Brabourne Stadium in 1993. It was the Hero Cup, South Africa vs West Indies. The North Stand, where I was, was rooting for Lara while the East stand was backing Jonty Rhodes. Finally, after a few trademark boundaries, Lara skied a ball and was caught spectacularly by, who else, Jonty. It was the only time I saw him in the flesh and then, as on television umpteen no. of times, it was a great sight.
But, putting his career into complete perspective would also require one to take into account his role as a leader. There, as is the case with Sachin, he could not really be called a good captain. But all said and done, we should all remember the Prince of Trinidad for the sheer joy he brought to a cricket ground. Watching him bat was like savouring the great joys of life !!!!!
So long, Brian !!! The cricket world will be a poorer place now...
PS: The World Cup finally reaches the final week, and one only hopes that somehow, 11 Aussies can show up on the field drunk. Who knows, even that might not be enough !!!