/ 20 April 2007

Lara: Troubled genius in mediocre Windies era

Will Brian Lara be remembered as a batting genius in a declining West Indies cricketing era who was destined to court frustration with his team’s repeated failures?

The debate will go on, but there is no denying that he was one of the best batsmen of the modern era who drew fans to the ground with his attractive and audacious stroke play.

”I just want to be remembered as someone who came out there and tried to entertain,” said the record-breaking Lara, who quit international cricket on Thursday after a dismal West Indies World Cup campaign.

”You have to remember that people pay to come through the turnstiles and watch you. It’s important if they say that they have enjoyed watching Brian Lara play.”

The 37-year-old Trinidadian holds two world batting records — the highest ever Test score of 400 not out against England in Antigua in 2004 and the highest first-class knock of 501 playing for Warwickshire against Durham in the English county championship in 1994.

He is the highest scorer in Tests with 11 953 runs in 131 matches with 34 centuries and the fifth-highest in one-dayers with 10 387 in 298 games.

Lara was never behind his great contemporaries, like Australian Ricky Ponting and Indian Sachin Tendulkar.

The major difference was that Lara waged many a lone battle during his illustrious career lasting more than a decade, while Ponting and Tendulkar enjoyed the support of their teammates.

Lara’s career has proved many times that runs do not always satisfy.

The stylish left-handed batsman was at his best during the 2001 Test series in Sri Lanka when he plundered 688 runs in three matches, only to see his team lose 3-0 on low, slow pitches.

Lara was again among runs in a Test series in Pakistan before the World Cup but again ended on the losing side. He provided entertainment to spectators but remained a batsman in a team that lost more often than won.

The West Indies had been steadily losing their supremacy when Lara made his international debut in 1990. Gone was the era of Clive Lloyd, whose sides dominated the world with a fearsome all-pace attack and exciting batsmen.

It was a tribute to Lara’s mental strength that he did not allow the team’s failures to affect his batting. He continued to score a bucketful of runs although the West Indies had ceased to be a force in international cricket.

”I have been knocked down so many times as a player, as a person, and have been able to pick myself up each time and go out there in the face of adversity,” said Lara.

”It is the strength that I suppose comes from my parents. That is something that I didn’t read in a book or wake up in the morning with. It is deep down and it is a part of my family trait.”

Lara was never a please-all person, having had numerous brushes with authorities and often coming under fire for his captaincy.

He was at loggerheads with the West Indies Cricket Board over selection, contracts and sponsorship deals.

None could question his extraordinary batting talent, but his leadership was considered uninspiring in some quarters. He was in his third stint as captain when he quit the game.

Lara has earned lavish praises from his opponents, with Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan describing the West Indian as ”more classy” than others and the ”most dangerous left-hand batsman I have ever bowled to in my career”.

Retired Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne had said that Tendulkar and Lara were the two best batsmen of his era.

”I think these two guys have been the toughest at the international level. Lara because of his placement. It’s just amazing. He can dominate a game, no matter who’s bowling,” he said. — AFP