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Brian Charles Lara a legend of our time

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An ancient proverb forewarns that all things, good or bad, must come to an end. As we say farewell to a living cricket legend and star of the West Indies, Brian Charles Lara, a well known fact is that his career was not just good, but exceptional. Whether his retirement was made to coincide with his birthday on May 2, 2007 or his last major international cricket event, his decision leaves us with mixed emotions as initially he was expected to quit only one-day cricket after his team’s final World Cup game against England at Kensington Oval.{{more}}

In recent times, the West Indies cricket team has lost its sting, and by extension the demoralization in spirit suffered by the team has descended on all fans and supporters of our once mighty team. Yet many of us remain committed to our team. During my childhood, the West Indies team was viewed as a symbol of excellence. This is not the picture that most of our children are getting today of this once so mighty team. The batting of Viv Richards, “Greenidge and Haynes”, a youthful Lara, and the bowling of Ambrose and Walsh will never be erased from our minds. Where are we now? Our batsmen are not committed to scoring runs with any degree of consistency, and our bowling line-up is incapable of defending anything score under 400 runs with any degree of certainty. This is shameful. Yet we must continue to support our own.

In order to move forward we must first prove to our own people that they have a reason to support both the sport of cricket and our team the West Indies. It is incredible that for the most part, to the majority of us, cricket means the West Indies team. That is one explanation why so many seats were empty at so many games this World Cup, simply because the West Indies team was either not scheduled to play in that island or they had already taken their exit from the World Cup Tournament. Therefore, the onus is on our writers, historians and marketers to ensure that the future generations have an adequate supply of information which would project the talent of Lara as a signpost of our success.

Brian Charles Lara or the Prince of Port-of-Spain was one of the world’s greatest batsmen ever. Topping the Test batting rankings on several occasions and holding two of the most prestigious World Records for batting in Tests: highest individual innings and being an all-time leading run scorer earned him such an accolade. He also holds the record for the highest individual score in first class cricket, with a total of 501 for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston in 1994.

Born in Santa Cruz in the twin island republic, Lara got his early start when he was enrolled at the local Harvard Coaching Clinic at the age of six for weekly coaching sessions on Sundays. It would take nine more years before his cricket career began when he played in his first West Indian under 19 youth tournament. In the same manner that many Vincentian youth aspire to acquire the skill that he possesses, Lara too looked up to West Indian players, the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards and Roy Fredericks being among his favourites for inspiration.

His first-class debut for Trinidad and Tobago in the Red Stripe Cup against Barbados in 1988 was closely followed by his appointment to be captain of the team in 1990. In 1992 he made his Test debut against Pakistan scoring 44 and 6. One of many firsts, Lara became the youngest captain at the age of 20. He has since been reappointed as captain on three different occasions, from 1997-1999, reappointed in 2003 and lastly in 2006. During his career his fury has been felt on the field as he scored centuries against all Test-playing nations.

In his 17 year cricket career characterized by many record breaking moments, he played for major teams including the West Indies, ICC World XI, Northern Transvaal, Trinidad &Tobago and Warwickshire. Some of his best innings were played in recent years though. Wisden published a top 100 list in July 2001, a distillation of the best performances from 1,552 Tests, 54,494 innings and 29,730 bowling performances. Three innings by Lara were placed in the top 15 (the most for any batsman in that range). In 1994, he was awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality Award. In 1995, he was chosen as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year.

His heroic 153 not out in Bridgetown, Barbados, during West Indies’ 2-2 home series draw against Australia in 1998-1999 was deemed the second greatest Test innings ever played, behind Bradman’s 270 against England in the Third Test of the 1936-1937 series at Melbourne. On 13 October, 2003, PricewaterhouseCoopers Ratings team published a list of top innings since 1990. Lara’s 213 against Australia in Kingston, Jamaica in 1999 came out to be the top innings. His 375 was placed 8th and his three other innings, including the 153 not out, were not far behind.

Lara has two centuries in ICC Cricket World Cups, both against South Africa, in 1999 and in 2003. As he played in his fourth and almost certainly his last international tournament at Kensington, we must remain hopeful that this is indeed not the last we see of him as he refused to rule out a return to first-class cricket. Now that he is gone, we await the next Brian Lara of the Caribbean to take the reigns of the team and hopefully our prospects for the 2011 Cricket World Cup would be brighter. Undoubtedly, his career has indeed been an inspiration to many West Indian youth, not just in the sport of cricket, but in soccer, rugby, and other non-traditional sport disciplines.

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