Brian Charles Lara - A One Man Team or What?
by Colin Croft
April 10, 1999
"'By Christ', Jack, dha is whuh 'BC' mean in de man name!!" This was from a ground engineer at Antigua's VC Bird International Airport to his friend, a baggage handler, just after the West Indies had lost the fourth Test, thus llowing Australia to draw the series and retain the Frank Worrell Trophy.
``Yuh mad or whuh?'' snarled the baggage handler, whose name, incidentally, was Curtly; ``'BC' is foh 'Before Christ'. After all, yo' en see dat he pon he own? Lara is a team by he self!!''
This sentiment, strangely, has reverberated around the Caribbean. While most periodicals and news flashes heralded ``The Great Comeback'' after that 51 all out in the second innings of the first Test and the 5-0 thrashing in South Africa, the more organized minds, those most knowledgeable of all involved in cricket, the fans in the trenches, knew very differently. They knew that the West Indies had just bitten the bullet; survived because of the batting exploits of one man.
Of course, most were euphoric to at least draw 2-2 with the unofficial ``World Champions''. For a time, with some more resolute batting, the West Indies could well have, as Muhammad Ali once shouted, ``shook up the world'' by beating Australia in Antigua and winning the series.
However, those realists were the ones who had felt the great pains from the poor batting by the West Indies cricket team for years, some even following the team around the world. Drawing with Australia, the three great innings of Lara notwithstanding, would not quickly remove that pain and apprehension for the future.
In Trinidad & Tobago, a Flight Attendant suggested that ``deh goin' kill Brian. Only he making all de runs!!''. She is not too wrong at all. Statistics and facts do not lie.
In the four Tests, Brian Lara made 546 runs out of a West Indies grand total of 1725 for the eight innings of the series. That is approximately 0.33, one third, of the total runs made by the West Indies. This, mind you, in a team which is supposed to have at least five additional batsmen in the two openers, whom-so-ever they were, and a choice from Carl Hooper, Dave Joseph, Jimmy Adams, Lincoln Roberts and Roland Holder. At least, Shiv Chanderpaul could say that he was not involved.
There is even something added here. One of the openers, Sherwin Campbell, even made a century in one of his innings. Both Ridley Jacobs, the wicket-keeper and the off-spinner, Nehemiah Perry, are supposed to be all-rounders. Yet, in the midst of all of this so called potentially dynamic batting, one man dominated so much that he scored one third of the total runs scored!! Unbelievable!
Does this then suggest that Brian Lara is now not only the best in the world, ratified by Coopers & Lybrand, but at least six times better than any of the other batsmen in the West Indies Test Cricket team? Normal brains normally explode with such thoughts!!
Incidentally, it should be noted that no three West Indian batsmen used in the series totaled 546 together. So, I suppose, Lara is at least three times better than anyone else!!
It should also be noted that Brian Lara had made three Test centuries in succession before. In 1995, during West Indies tour of England, a tour which, strangely, also ended with the teams tied at 2-2, he got centuries at Old Trafford, (4th Test), Trent Bridge (5th Test) and the Oval (6th Test). Despite these batting heroics, that tour did not end so well for Brian. It was at the end of this tumulteous tour to England that he supposedly quit the game with the expressed opinion that ``cricket is ruining my life.''
No such situation for our hero this time. Now, in a real comeback, one that even Mohammad Ali would have been proud of, Lara has indeed proved, like ice hockey's Wayne Gretsky, that he also deserves to be called ``The Great One.'' That is not too far-fetched. After all, that innings of 153 not out in Barbados,and indeed the Test itself, for all intents and purposes, are being called ``the best ever.''
In the past, the West Indies used to suggest that whatever was made by the batsmen could be defended by the bowlers. Indeed, the present crop of bowlers, led by veterans Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, have not done a bad job at all. But, that is where the similarity ends. The batsmen, overall, except ``BC'', are lagging far behind. Lara is so dominant that even his own players agree that he is ``Lord''. At least Jimmy Adams suggested that.
Fans from Guyana who attended the fourth Test in Antigua had to change airplanes at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad & Tobago. Even they were coming to the realization that Carl Hooper, their ``countryman,'' will soon have to do much more than he has achieved so far. After 80 Tests, Hooper cannot still be thought of as ``having potential''.
While a former Minister of the Trinidad & Tobago's Government lamented that ``our overall batting has no steel,'' a University Professor from Barbados, where Carl Hooper is more adored than anywhere else, suggested that ``Hooper should be locked up for breach of promise. He is always promising but not delivering nor fulfilling the so-called potential he is supposed to have.''
This was fortified, in a way, by a ``Rasta-Man'', his dread-locks almost touching the ground; ``Dem men, odder than Lara, have no plan nor no technique in dey battin'. Dey like machine; man. Brainless!!''
This was enhanced further still by a female returning vacationer. ``Foh plannin', yo' need brains. I wonder if Lara can't talk to dem rest o' batsmen, man. It is so shameful. Without he, we dead!!'' Rather nastily, she added; ``As foh de Hoopah, he coulda stay in Aastraalia. 'E does not do nothin' good when we really want 'e help''
I am very convinced that the people in the trenches, those people who spend so much money travelling the world over in the relentless quest to see the West Indies cricket team continuously victorious again, ``World Champions'' even, are much smarter than many of us supposed experts. While they would die as West Indian supporters, come what may for the team, they certainly know their cricket enough not to live in fantasy land. Simply, they tell it like it is. Maybe they should run the cricket overall!!
It seems that even the people with some sort of say in the cricket agree that something is not altogether right. Three days after the loss in Antigua, Mike Findlay, the Chairman of West Indian selectors, asked for ``patience'' from the supporters as the ``transition continues''. Clive Lloyd asked for the same support after the first Test 51.
This transition now seems to have been going on forever. Not even that out-of-this-world massive Anaconda in the film of the same name could have taken this long to shed his old skin and attitude and to show some new tough belly!! Or did we see the ``changing of the skin'', and attitude, against Australia in Jamaica and Barbados? We shall see.
The final word for all of this must come from the person now believed by most Caribbean people to be as near to The Almighty as is humanly possible.
Brian Lara was, unanimously, the ``Man of the Series.'' Even the Australians, including the only other contender for the position, Glen McGrath, agree.
Said Lara on Tuesday after the fourth Test was lost: ``It was a truly magnificent team effort. The series was justifiably drawn 2-2. I would have loved to have lifted the Frank Worrell Trophy in victory this time around, as I had promised I would do. Unfortunately, that was not to be. However, there is still our tour to Australia early in the new millenium, 2000/2001. Perhaps it will hurt the Australians even more when we take it from them at home, in their own back-yards, then. Our boys did very well here to recover so well after South Africa''
Perhaps, too, we have witnessed, in the 1999 vintage of Brian Lara, not only the reborn craving for great cricketing challenges and the need to overcome them, but maybe a turning over of the sheets, and a mellowing full of professionalism. Certainly, he is still full of great charm and diplomacy. Clearly, Lara is in a class of his own.