King Lara rules again

By Donald Duff
Stabroek News
March 31, 1999

MALIGNED and ridiculed in the press and almost everywhere else during his first overseas stint as captain in South Africa where he led the West Indies team to their first ever series whitewash Brian Lara returned to the Caribbean injured, worried about his loss of form and facing the indignity of being sacked as captain.

It was at best a dismal situation which was not helped when he led the West Indies to another dubious milestone the lowest Test score ever recorded by the West Indies team in 71 years of Test cricket in the first test against Australia in his Trinidad homeland.

It seemed Lara was all set to be relieved of the captaincy since the West Indies selectors had put him on a two-match probation.

Brian Lara, holder of the world record for the highest individual score in first-class cricket, a staggering 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston in 1994, had gone from celebrated hero to villain.

But the double world record-holder showed the reason why he is today, the number one batsman in the world, with a magnificent 213 in the second Test in Jamaica against the world champions which led the West Indies to a series squaring triumph.

The double century, his third, was rated his best innings by Coopers and Lybrand, surpassing his world-record 375 made against England and it propelled him back to the top of the world rankings.

But even Lara's epic 375 made against England in St Johns, Antigua in 1994 yesterday paled into insignificance as the Prince of Port-of-Spain defied history and the odds to lead the West Indies team to an astonishing one-wicket win over Australia in the third Cable and Wireless cricket Test at Kensington Oval in Barbados.

It was, and will remain, one of the greatest individual performances in Test match history etched forever in the minds of those who saw it.

The win gave the West Indies team a 2-1 lead in the four Test series and a chance of reclaiming the Sir Frank Worrell trophy Lara had vowed he would reclaim after the 1996-97 tour of Australia.

In scoring an undefeated 153, King Lara, showed the same nerves of steel, the same calculated focus, the same ruthlessness and the familiar flashing blade he showed against the old teachers England.

Watched by all the greats yesterday including Sir Garfied Sobers in the stand at the Kensington Oval named after him and Sir Everton Weeks, Lara erased all memory of the pain and humiliation of the South African debacle. It was sweet redemption!

All over the Caribbean in every, office, every bar, every home, Prince Lara held centre stage like only he can, much like he did when he scored his epic 375 in Antigua.

Lara has, by his batting, which transcends that of all of the other modern day pretenders to his throne, brought back the smiles to West Indian faces, the joy and rapture that was but a distant memory a short while ago to the psyche of the Caribbean.

It is a fact that the fickleness of the average West Indian fan is similar to that of the West Indies team's batting.

The average fan can be quite hard on the team whenever they lose and more often than not, is not inclined to "Rally Round the West Indies" as David Rudder's West Indian anthem requests whenever they are in a crisis.

The fans have not been slow to criticise Lara for his human failings off the field ( of which there have been many) and have been even more vocal about his batting on it.

But as the genius of Lara unfolded yesterday in all its glory in the dying stages of a tense and fascinating, heart-stopping contest at the former headquarters of West Indies cricket, all Lara's past indiscretions were forgotten as West Indians marvelled at the sublime batting skills which is surely a gift from heaven. It was heavenly stuff indeed.

The Prince has been redeemed.