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Lara’s Batting Brilliance Defies All Odds

Brian Lara
(Photo: Shiek Mohamed)

By Orin Davidson
For most sports professionals, age is a crucial influence in performance.

As you grow older, your performances are supposed to decline with every stroke, shot or delivery.

For Brian Lara though, it seems all a myth.
At 37 years of age, his batting achievements are going nowhere behind the borderline of normalcy.

The team’s current tour of Pakistan is providing irrefutable proof of Lara’s qualities.

His brilliant double century at Multan five days ago was the latest of his many gems that makes him unmatched in ability to score big in bunches.

So far his three innings to date in the two Tests have overshadowed everyone else in the race for excellence in current this period of international competition.

His 122 and 62 in the first Test stood among the ruins of a West Indies susceptible lineup that allowed Pakistan to cart off the opening encounter in a cake walk.

Mohamad Yousuf, the outstanding Pakistan run-machine came close to rattling up two double centuries in the said series, but he is five years younger than Lara and had five times the number of let-offs from dropped catches and umpiring mistakes in his three innings.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian whose compatriot Steve Waugh feels he is the second best Aussie batsman after the legendary Sir Donald Bradman, is six years younger than Lara, and although he racked up a splendid 196 in his first knock against England in the Ashes clash, he still has many more innings left to match his performance at Brisbane.

In common with the majority of his prodigious scoring streaks over a 16-year international career, Lara showed that he is far from done as the world’s most prolific scorer.

One year ago, his emphatic 226 in Australia landed him the world Test aggregate record of which his 400 individual mark of 400 not out has proved beyond the reach of everyone including the aforementioned players and others. Just ask Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene.

Yet an asterisk can go against the great majority of Lara’s epic knocks, simply because they have not yielded West Indies Test victories as a result.

In most of the cases they were scored on slow, flat pitches which made batting so easy, there was never enough time in five days to force victories.

Apart from his 154 against Australia in 1999 which took West Indies home to a thrilling Test win, his other great knocks have only produced draws or defeats.

The 277 at Sydney and 213 in Jamaica could be deemed exceptions because they were produced in dire circumstances that helped avoid defeats rather than of matches petering out in tame draws.

The reality is Lara knows best how to compile his runs on slow tracks. His amazing three-Test 688-run streak in Sri Lanka five years ago which remains a record for short series, was compiled on the slow tracks there.

Similarly his two individual world records were both compiled at the Antigua Recreation ground, which is just as docile.

Now in Pakistan, his ongoing purple patch is being amassed on the same pitches where are taking Yousuf’s 439 tally close to Vivian Richards’ calendar year world Test mark.

It does not mean Lara cannot produce the goods on the fast bouncy strips in Australia or the seaming green tops of England.

The reality is that he will amass epic totals eight out of ten times on featherbed tracks.
However, it remains an unpalatable reality for his die-hard West Indian fans who have seen their team lose matches when Lara has been unable to bat them to victory, given his mega-star reputation.

In the first Test of the current series, he made his contributions an exception by shinning in both innings in a defeat.

There is one Test to go which should determine whether Lara is more than a flat- track bully, with West Indies in a must win situation.

But he will need his players to catch better because the number of spilled offerings so far has meant the difference between them being 0-1 or 1-1.

Not many bombshells have been unloaded on West Indies cricket in recent times, but when it did eventually occur, the Ramnaresh Sarwan axing left as many followers perplexed and shocked.

So far captain Lara has stated quite clearly the player’s omission had everything to do with form and nothing else.

But it is clear to anyone closely following West Indies fortunes, Sarwan’s dropping is an extreme deviation from the team’s selection policy over the years.

No player has ever been discarded from a West Indies team after averaging 91 in a series they last contested just five months earlier. The fact that he averaged 32 in the subsequent Test series matters against India in May/June, nor because he did not maintain his standards in two other competitions, is not normally grounds for the relatively draconian move.

Certainly no player of Sarwan’s overall ODI rating that lists him as the world’s number two or his status as team vice captain, has ever been axed in like manner.

The causes are either of two reasons.
Coach Bennett King’s contract is almost over and he so desperately needs a Test series victory to maintain his job, he will stop at any drastic measure in true Aussie manner to realize his aim. At the time of Sarwan’s ousting Runako Morton was sitting on the bench with good scores behind his name from the Champions Trophy series, thus it was an opportunity to clutch at any straw available.

If not, there is possibly another side to a not unfamiliar case of victimization in West Indies cricket. With huge egos existing in the team, disagreement is always knocking at every door and Sarwan could well be on the receiving end.

Such a state of affair has been a disease in West Indies throughout its history and it would not be eradicated now, even if foreigners are running the show.
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