The records they make help popularize cricketers. Some are known by the style they carry.
There are also those who are known by the number of times they stole a contest away from their opponents.
Then, there are those who are remembered for contributing to the weight history books ultimately gained. Guess Brian Lara was responsible for each of the above.
Where was another bat as admired as he was envied?
Was there another who appealed as much to the rest of the world as he was often reviled by his own?
To understand Brian Lara, who’s turned 50, would be to stare beyond the charisma of his numbers. But the trouble is, there’s quite many of them to go beyond. Can it ever be easy? You can choose to overlook the 375, but can you avoid the 277 in Sydney? You can even ignore the 400 not out but can you keep an eye away from the 153 against Australia?
Even if you succeeded in the above, can you possibly peek beyond the 156 against Pakistan, featuring a few one-handed sixes, or the 100 off 82 at Jamaica, the match-winning fifty against India in Singapore, the quintuple ton in County cricket or the only Test hundred he scored at his native Trinidad against Australia?
To get a sense of what the ‘Prince of Trinidad’ achieved- one might have to see beyond the ups and downs and the many turnstiles that Brian Lara himself confessed he came good against.
For a man who entertained for nearly a decade and a half, yet ending his journey with a question one may find bordering on funny and rhetorical- “Did I entertain“- could Lara have become what he did minus the challenges he encountered?
What we often ignore about Brian Lara’s enigma is the foundation he built it on; never smooth, hardly secure, and seldom comforting. Losing his mother to cancer and his father quite early on in life, Brian Lara may be remembered for the monumental knocks he scored but he should also be credited for the emotional challenges he encountered and bettered in the end.
For someone whose interests lay in Accountancy and Football, Lara’s gigantic leaps in Cricket would’ve never been had he not been encouraged to explore cricket by father, Bunty. The prodigious talent at Fatima College, one who’d become Sachin Tendulkar’s number-one challenger embraced injuries, loss of form, episodes of indifference from the very cricket board he served, calling himself “a humble servant of West Indian cricket.”
What we often admire about Lara are those 688 beautifully collected runs from the 3 Tests down in Sri Lanka, 2002-03. After all, he fought alone for his West Indies against Murali and Vaas at their own turf.
But what we fail to acknowledge is the period of trouble Lara encountered. We tend to neglect that before the start of the series, Lara was confronting a familiar foe: a patch of indifference with the bat.
The Lara who tamed Murali and Vaas in Sri Lanka, fighting fire with fire wouldn’t have been the exemplary bat he became had he not interacted with Sir Gary Sobers, a man who guided him to make a tweak in his stance and therefore, his technique.
Yet, with all due respect, we regard Sachin for the mastery of the sweep when it was his great contemporary from Port of Spain, who swept Murali to oblivion.
Sanga, to this day, swears by Lara.
Even “Mikey” Michael Holding acknowledges Lara as a man even better than Sir Viv.
And, McGrath, Warne, Gillespie, Lee, Donald, Kallis have all found their confidence shaken by this dancing warlord on the 22 yards whose batting was perhaps as exhilarating as was the style in which he collected runs.
But implicit in the story of Brian Lara is the hunger to overcome odds; challenges that often knocked on his doors in the guise of his lackadaisical nature and bouts of inconsistency.
Akin to black clouds that strike uninvited, Brian Lara was knocked down twice in his career and that too, monumentally.
Once, before the start the Bridgetown, Barbados Test of 1998-99 series against Australia. And once, during the entirety of the England series in the Caribbean in 2004.
Not a pleasant site to see the crowd “baying for your blood” and the media “hounding” you, asking for your resignation as captain.
Yet, the events of the Barbados Test reveal that which has aptly been described by none other than Mark Waugh himself, a famous witness of the great assault waged by Lara: “Probably, the best inning I’ve ever seen!”
And similarly, with his team collapsing for under 50 in the series before, with Flintoff, Hoggard, Jones firing blistering cannons of speed and aggression, scoring those 400 runs, at Antigua can only be judiciously termed as an exhibition of batting masterclass.
And maybe that’s the thing about Brian Lara, isn’t it?
That he was so often down and out, with his back against the wall, that he had to stand in the line of fire, facing the fury of nature- be it Pollock or Waqar, Akram or McGrath- with only concentration and the desire to lift himself up being his only ally.
No one before Brian Lara made hundreds with such charisma and of that magnitude and no one has since. But it is Lara’s will to succeed- something that’s way more important than his flair and flamboyance- that must be paid more attention to.
And could it be that this is the thing about Brian Lara that deserves to be upheld just as his nuggets of precise focus and firepower are?