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Raffique Shah


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Lara put manhood before glory

By Raffique Shah
May 06, 2007

I have never met or spoken with Brian Lara. I didn't need to (how easily one lapses into the past tense). Like millions of cricket fans around the world, I enjoyed his batting genius, replays et al, thanks to modern technology. And what a joy he was to watch when in full flight, flaying the best bowlers in the sport every which way-and so often beyond the boundary. Whenever he came to the crease his fans around the world watched in eager anticipation, expecting something exciting, unusual. Often, he was back in the pavilion without scoring more than 50 runs. But just the thrill of expecting big things from this little man was worth the wait.

Now that he has retired from the sport at the international level, without doubt there is a gaping void in our team that other very good players will find hard to fill. This is not to undervalue the flair of newly-appointed captain Ramnaresh Sarwan, the dogged determination of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the yet-to-be-explored talents of Dwayne Bravo, Devon Smith and others.

But in the tour of England against a team that's struggling for consistency as much as ours is seeking to regain a modicum of respect, Lara's presence will be sorely missed. It will be the first time in many years that the West Indies will feel depleted: the last such departures that hurt us as much were when the opening pair of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes made their exit from the team and when the deadly duo of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh called it a day.

Tour aside, and the World Cup cast aside as the worst such tournament ever, Lara's departure remains for us the biggest loss. For him, though, many of us sensed it was coming and when it did that it was the best decision he made in the circumstances. And we should respect it.

A man must do what he has to do. Here's the successor to Garry Sobers, a gifted cricketer that comes along once in a generation (think India, Gavaskar and Tendulkar; think Australia, Border and Ponting), and all we do is cuss and criticise him. The lords of West Indies cricket, the selectors and the scribes, laid waste this precocious boy, who showed superior talent at age 14 in Trinidad and Tobago's Under-16 team, then the West Indies Under-17 team, and later in the Under-19 team. True, it was difficult to get into a star-studded team that was rampaging through the cricket world, demolishing India, Australia, England and Pakistan almost at will.

Still, as Lara rides off into the sunset of international cricket, one cannot help but think of what might have been. He was 21 when he was first selected to play against a powerful Pakistan team. One must wonder what went though his mind when, prior to that, he carried water and equipment for his teammates, never getting a "knock". Yet we look at other teams that "blooded" very young players-Ashraful of Bangladesh holds the record as the youngest player to score a Test century at 17 years and few months old. And Ashraful is no Lara-in-the-making.

There is talk that young Brian, once he was on the team, was not as disciplined as was expected of a player at that level. Oh, we have heard all the stories of late-night liming, of cuss-outs in the dressing room, and more, much more and much worse. We fail, though, to realise that such petulance-and arrogance-goes with the genius turf. It is not something that managers and boards and senior players easily come to terms with, and it's not an attitude one encourages. But even genius recognises paternal guidance if it's on offer. One wonders who among Lara's senior colleagues, or on the Board, took the time and the effort to guide him towards being not just the greatest batsman ever, but also a great captain.

That never happened, and Lara ended up captaining a team that seemed to have lost its way. The cavalier manner in which some players approached important games, and this not only in the recent World Cup, was cause for concern by the region's cricket fanatics. The critics, on the other hand, were baying for Lara's blood. Almost every analyst of note was knocking Lara, not the Board, not the selectors.

With the World Cup being a fiasco even before it began, that did not help. Here was a struggling team entering a poorly organised tournament that not just lacked lustre, but by and large excluded Lara's cricketing aphrodisiac, crowd support. It was a mess every which way. Little wonder in the midst of the melee, this player who has given us so many dazzling moments in cricket history that we can be proud of, just walked. Now that he has gone-and thanks, Brian, for the memories-let's see who will "take stick". Sarwan, poor fella, will need body armour to fend off sticks and stones.