Ian on Sunday
March 12, 2000
People have been asking me what are my views on Brian Lara. Six years ago, after he had broken the leading world records in batting, I wrote an article which I now reproduce, recalling as I do so the famous observation by the English 19th century novelist, Anthony Trollope: "Success is a necessary misfortune of human life, but it is only to the very unfortunate that it comes early."
The tears of Alexander "Diogenes of Sinope is famous for many things: in ancient Greece he co-founded the Cynic cult; he preached a severe asceticism and lived in a tub; he was the man who wandered through Athens in the daytime with a lamp 'looking for an honest man.' But for the purpose of this article he is the man who, when Alexander the Great visited and asked what he could do for him, replied rather crossly, "You could move out of the sun and not cast a shadow on me.' Much like what, I imagine, great batsmen around the world must be murmuring about Lara at a time when he has so completely overshadowed them that the sun seems to have shone for hardly anyone but him.
"In the whole history of cricket, which is centuries old let me remind you, there has been nothing that begins to approach Lara's play in the last two months. He has broken not one, not two, but three of the top world batting records: hit the highest ever Test score, become the only man ever to score seven first-class centuries in eight innings, and hit the highest first class innings ever made. I can think of nothing like it in all of sport. What is more, this is part of a longer sequence of scores which is itself incredible - could one of our statisticians give us Lara's first-class scores since he made that marvellous 277 against Australia in 1992? No one, surely, not even Bradman at his most flush, has dominated bowlers so overwhelmingly for so long.
"June 6th - D-Day, a day never to be forgotten on the beaches of Normandy, or now in cricket's annals. Lara's latest record, 501 not out, has a special significance: if you consult your Wisden the most runs ever scored in a first-class innings has pride of place as the first record of all in the list. In achieving his phenomenal score of half a thousand in a single innings Lara scored 380 in one day - another record, the most runs scored by one man in a day of first class cricket. What was as remarkable as anything was Lara's hunger for runs and extraordinary fitness. At 459 a drive to extra cover for once did not reach the boundary - so Lara ran the four. One thing is sure: he has the appetite for glory.
"Yet sadness lingers in the triumphant air. I remember feeling exactly the same sadness when in 1985 I watched Boris Becker, that golden youth of seventeen, win Wimbledon and lift the golden goblet on his head triumphantly in the sunlight. After such fame and glory, what was he going to do with the rest of his life? It has happened before. The classic instance, of course, is that of Alexander the Great who by at 33 had conquered the world but then, so legend tells us, grew melancholy and wept at the prospect of nothing more to win.
"I remember very well a commentator, trying to capture young Becker's ecstasy, saying "What dreams will he dream tonight?" I think he meant to indicate that Becker's dreams would be incomparably sweet. But inadvertently he was making a much deeper and more subtle point - that by winning Wimbledon Becker could not dream of winning Wimbledon any more. To have a dream come true is one of the saddest things that can happen to anyone. When a dream comes true not very long after it has begun to be dreamt it is even sadder. What sweeter dreams can Lara ever dream than he has already dreamt and now wakes to find them true?
In particular, it has become clear that, whatever his expressed concerns for West Indies cricket, in his own estimation Lara comes first before helping the team in its desperate plight
"In life the best way is to have a dream which you can dream for a long, long time - all your life if possible. That is why sporting fame, being achieved in youth, is the least satisfying sort of fame. The dreams of sportsmen can only be dreamt in youth. After that dreams stop and when dreaming stops, leaving only memories, life loses more than half its savour. When great dreams are finished dreaming as young as 25 the rest of life is bound to seem a little hum-drum by comparison. There is a verse in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew which warns passers-by that those who steal a certain fruit 'shall find their heart's desire and despair' - making the point that wonderful achievement and depressing let-down go sadly hand in hand. And, after all, perhaps this is no more than the reflection in miniature of the eternally bitter fact that however sweet life may be death always concludes that story.
"Everything happens so much more quickly in sport than in any other of life's pursuits. First you are very promising, next you are breaking through, then you are first-class material, then you become a great player, then perhaps a blazing star, you may even become champion of the world, then you are the evergreen contender, and at last the beloved veteran. But note with utter dismay how little time has passed: that little death, retirement, looms not at 65 but at 35. How much sadder is the sportsman's fate than that of the statesman, saint or scientist, painter, poet, musician or even businessman, none of whom ever need run out of dreams of glory and fulfilment!
"Sport is the cruellest muse. It will take exceptional character and enormous strength of will for Lara not to succumb to the nagging feeling from now on that the Gods somehow have let him down by crowning him too soon."
Lara, unfortunately, proved not to have the exceptional character and enormous strength of will to survive his early, overwhelming success. That is not surprising. Not many golden boys go on without tarnishing. However, we are left with the consequences.
In particular, it has become clear that, whatever his expressed concerns for West Indies cricket, in his own estimation Lara comes first before helping the team in its desperate plight. Why on earth did he not simply step down from the captaincy with dignity and devote himself body and soul to batting for the West Indies against Zimbabwe and Pakistan?
In the circumstances though we can sympathise, as Pat Rousseau asks us to do, with the hero fallen so low, such sympathy certainly cannot extend to permitting Lara, or anyone else, to walk out of and into the West Indies team when it suits him. He should not be in the team to tour England. Next season he should work out his salvation anew in domestic competition. Then I will be the first to hope for a second coming.
Disciplinary problems in the city's secondary schools have been in the news this year. The most recent case involves North Georgetown, where the teachers went on strike the Friday before last to register a protest against the revocation of a decision to suspend a group of students. The group included three whom it was alleged had broken and entered a classroom, and another who had allegedly punctured the tyre on a teacher's vehicle. The last mentioned is nineteen-years-old, had been before the courts for an offence and allegedly had ignited a firecracker last Christmas which damaged a wall in the school building.
The staff at the school told the Stabroek News that from time to time students had threatened them, and on one occasion a third former had pulled a knife on another third former. Cutlasses, butcher's knives, pellet guns and other implements which could be classed as weapons, had been taken away from students in the past, teachers said.
After the school suspended the students, the Ministry of Education rescinded the suspension, but to date, this newspaper has been unable to establish from the relevant officials what the rationale behind this decision was. It is not the first time that the Ministry has seen fit to reverse a suspension order; this year too, it revoked a Queen's College decision to suspend some students on the grounds that it had been procedurally incorrect.
While the behaviour of Guyanese students does not yet approximate to that of their counterparts in the decaying inner cities of the industrialized world, the local urban schools are nevertheless beginning to experience the kind of disciplinary problems which belong to that world. Where North Georgetown in particular is concerned, the situation is not helped by overcrowding, where a school built to accommodate 600 or 700 pupils now has in excess of 1,200.
In the old days the schools were unequivocally in charge of discipline, and invariably received the support of parents who held teachers in high esteem. There was no room for a student to play off one authority figure against another, although the methods of correction often employed were fairly brutal. While we can do without the excesses, we certainly cannot do without the discipline. It is almost a truism to say that good teaching cannot occur unless there is a proper disciplinary framework. Any group exceeding about twelve members, ceases to be an agglomeration of individuals, and becomes a unit with its own character. Nothing will be learnt in a classroom situation if that unit is in control rather than the teacher.
Students who are not subject to the larger disciplinary framework, who believe that their parents are rich enough, important enough or aggressive enough to get them off anything, who feel that the teachers and headmistresses/masters are not the ultimate authorities in their schools, will behave delinquently, and perhaps even dangerously. Abroad students sometimes have assaulted teachers, and it is not unknown for them to have been killed.
Where the particular case of the North Georgetown teachers is concerned, in the absence of any rejoinder from the Ministry, they would appear to have very good cause for complaint. Prima facie it sounds as if hooliganism has raised its head in their school, and that the disciplinary atmosphere is not conducive to learning.
Headteachers need to be able to apply sanctions such as suspension, without having to second-guess the Ministry of Education all the time, and without living in fear of their decisions being reversed. The recent pattern of Ministry interference in disciplinary matters is not a healthy trend. It undermines the authority of a headteacher and his or her staff, and tends to exacerbate the problem of indiscipline in the long term, rather than alleviate it. Teachers will make mistakes sometimes in correcting children, but unless some gross miscarriage has occurred in some very sensitive instance, the Ministry of Education should strenuously resist the temptation to overturn the decisions of the school authorities. Discipline should be a matter for the school, not some ministry official.
For their part, the staff of our educational institutions have probably to engage parents in discussions about discipline, perhaps within the framework of the Parent Teacher Associations. They have to agree on guidelines, and then they have to apply them systematically. No student should be able to hold a school to ransom because his/her parents can put pressure on Ministry officials.