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Brian Lara batting against Bangladesh during CWC '07. (Photo by Shiek Mohamed)

Time Ripe For Lara To Lead By Example

By Orin Davidson

In less than two months Brian Lara will mark his 16th year of international cricket and at 37 years of age he is showing no signs of calling time on his career anytime soon.
Not that the world would like to see him go, but it was felt that World Cup 2007 would’ve been his swansong.

The hints were appearing ever since Lara announced his intention to reduce his participation in One Day games last year.

But of late the triple world record holder seems intent on eating his words when he brushed aside questions about calling it a day after West Indies tours England following the World Cup.

Whether he has made up his mind or not on his curtain call, Lara is keeping the precious details to himself.

Yet from his scores of late, Lara’s critics acquired good grounds to suggest the World Cup be his farewell appearance.

These past few series, the “Prince” has been having a difficult time justifying his reputation as one of the greatest ever batsmen to set foot on a cricket field.

Since that remarkable purple patch more than a year ago during the home series against South Africa and Pakistan after a lengthy layoff, , Lara has not pulled his weight the way fans expect him to, as the team’s losing streak piled up especially in Tests.

Even in their morale boosting 4-1 One Day International series triumph over India a few months ago, he was not at his best.

Yet instead of it dousing his appetite for the game, which he once claimed was ruining his life, Lara ‘s desire seems greater than ever now.

At a recent media session the three-time West Indies captain, refused to put a deadline on his career, stating that his focus presently is to use lead West Indies to a position close to when they once ruled the world in the 1980s.

Wishful thinking it might seem, taking into consideration the parlous state of development programs in the West Indies and the Board’s dire financial position.

Nevertheless, Lara obviously feels more committed to West Indies presently than he did six months ago, prior to WICB president Ken Gordon beseeching him to re-accept the captaincy, when it became an even more poisonous chalice to handle than all of his predecessors experienced within the last 10 years.

In the interim Gordon has seemingly made his Trinidadian counterpart into an even greater figure in the Regional game. How else could explain the profuse apologies extended to the master batsman for the communication disaster that made Lara a selector in thought instead of reality, just recently.

It was done at a time when all manner of atrocities have hit West Indian players.

Perhaps the letdown that allowed the entire India series to run without Lara being made aware of him being part of the panel, has forced Gordon to make up to his captain in more ways than one.

For all his influence over the years, Lara could not appear more powerful than his objection to a proposed early WI team selection for the Pakistan tour, being used by Gordon as an indirect cause for the cancellation of the Stanford $5Million winner Take All game between West Indies and South Africa.

One wonders if Lara was made a central figure in the Stanford affair, whether the grand finale would not be on presently.

In all fairness to his reputation though, it is possible the Stanford Legends blundered by not making Lara and the other stars who missed the series, a part of the strongest possible West Indies team that would’ve played South Africa.

| In selecting only the players who were available for the games, the organizers missed the opportunity to make the $5M game an even grander affair.

Who knows, Lara may have felt slighted by not being made a part of West Indies cricket history, and he has every right to feel that way.

His reasons for missing Trinidad’s participation was possibly an extension of his earlier pronouncements about curtailing his involvement in too much slam-bang one-day cricket. At the said time, he was touring Dubai, likely honoring business commitments, but Lara being Lara, postponements could’ve been applied for him anytime after Trinidad opposed Guyana in the final on August 13.

Yet for all his about-turns, Lara would not be the lone West Indian superstar to play well beyond their mid-30s.

Former captain Clive Lloyd carried on until he was 40, and the man who succeeded him Vivian Richards was 39 at the time of his last Test.

Being both batsmen, would’ve made it easy for them to play until the deep sunset of their careers. So are Gordon Greenidge who was a few days short of 40 and Desmond Haynes who was close to 39. Not to mention the ironman of all bowlers Courtney Walsh who bowled pace until he went past 39 years.

Because Lara has scored more runs and played more games than them all, it would be priceless to know the real motivation behind his decision not to end his career close to his 38th birthday in May 2007.

But in the meantime he will have to step into higher gear to make his presence memorable in the remaining time.

It’s been too long since Lara batted West Indies to a victory of any sort when presented with golden opportunities.

Two World Cups have passed without him making a heavy impact and it was left to tail enders Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Brown to pull off the 2004 Champions Trophy final. Those instances are outside of the many Test match situations in between, with his epic 153 against Australia being an exception in 1999 - when Lara did not carry his team’s batting like someone with the highest Test runs tally and individual score is supposed to do.

Standing before him now is possibly the most important stretch of limited overs competitions of his career.

Everything will culminate in the World Cup next March /April and already Lara finds himself off to a late start in the DLP Tri Nation series in Malaysia.

Hopefully he will not have to use Sachin Tendulkar’s tremendous return to competition on Thursday as a motivator to make his presence felt.

If so, he will have lots of explaining to satisfy West Indians that team success is all that matters to him.

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