Continuing with our series on the greatest cricketers of all time, here’s No. 11 on our list.
No. 11 – Brian Lara
If you ever saw him flail his bat around, you’d think he was conducting a symphony orchestra. Using that wand, he played for Southern Rocks, a Zimbabwean side in the 2010-2011 Stanbic Bank 20 series. This was his first T-20 cricket match. He scored a 65 in it, played two more matches and then left the side because he had prior commitments to fulfill. This game came well after he had announced his retirement from international cricket, on 19th April 2007, and after he had played his last ODI for West Indies against England on 21st April 2007. A year after his retirement he played for Mumbai Champs in the Indian Cricket League, and then scored a hundred for Trinidad later that year. That’s Brian Charles Lara for you – the ultimate maverick in a game of disciplined gentlemen.
For all of his quirks, though, Lara is the only batsman to have ever scored a hundred, a double century, a triple century, a quadruple century and a quintuple century in first class games. He scored 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham, creating a world record that is yet to be broken. And just so that no one doubted his greatness, he didn’t do too badly at the international stage either. He scored 375 against England, which became a world record, only to be broken later by Mathew Hayden. In an astonishing display, however, Lara regained the world record by scoring 400 not out against the same opposition in 2004.
The story behind his debut against Pakistan in 1990 is interesting. At the age of 6 his father Bunty enrolled him in the local Harvard Coaching Clinic. By ‘local’ I mean Santa Cruz, Trinidad – his birth place. Under the guidance of Mr. Harry Ramdas, Lara amassed 745 runs in the schoolboys’ league at age 14, played his first under- 19 youth tournament at 15, and the same year went on to play for the West Indies under–19 cricket team. He made his first-class debut for Trinidad and Tobago in the Red Stripe Cup against Leeward Islands. In his second first-class match he made 92 against a Barbados attack containing Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall, two greats of the West Indies team. Later in the same year, he captained the West Indies team in Australia for the Bicentennial Youth World Cup, where his team reached the semi-finals. His innings of 182 as captain of the West Indies under-23 XI against the touring Indian team further elevated his reputation. The subsequent good news of a West Indian call-up, however, coincided with the sad news of his father’s demise and he had to withdraw from the team. But the boy who played soccer and table tennis for the Trinidad and Tobago junior teams, had cricket engraved in his destiny. Eventually he did make his debut and carried on emulating his idols Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards and Roy Fredericks.
Along his quest to find batting nirvana, Lara shared many battles with the mighty Australian team. Glenn McGrath went so far as to rate him higher than Sachin Tendulkar after the 2007 World Cup. And McGrath can’t really be blamed for that, because he witnessed Lara play that innings of 153 not out in 1999, which single-handedly took West Indies to a famous Test match victory. Of course, Lara’s maiden Test hundred, a mammoth 277 way back in 1993, was also against Australia. This was in Sydney, the place he named his daughter after.
But years before he had a daughter with Trinidadian model Leasel Rovedas, and much before he became captain of the WI team in 1998-99 (then reappointed in 2003 and once again in 2006), he was also the youngest captain of Trinidad and Tobago in 1990. He was only 20 years old then. From that emblematic beginning, Lara grew to be such a good cricketer that sponsors lined up behind him. He even got into a bit of trouble with the WICB as West Indies team sponsor and his own personal sponsor were rival companies. Nevertheless, sponsors continued to scramble around the man who would go on to retire as the highest run-getter in Test cricket and be the first West Indian to surpass 10,000 One-day runs.
They said Lara was a magician; his batting, replete with silken touch and scintillating stroke-play, was considered the most sinfully indulgent sight cricket had ever witnessed. There was nothing that Lara couldn’t do with a bat in his hand. He once went on a self-imposed sabbatical from the game, dabbling in golf and hardly doing any batting practice whatsoever, but then returned to international cricket and immediately slammed a gorgeous 196 against a potent South African attack. But Lara’s career wasn’t nearly as smooth as his willow-work: he constantly fought against the WICB, his team-mates, pitch curators, and most importantly, his own inner demons, as he attempted to lift West Indies cricket from the depths it had plunged to in the late 90′s. He was quintessentially moody – if he could smack an innings of 196 after 6 months without practice, he could just as easily fall for a first-ball duck after scoring 3 successive hundreds. Lara’s career, and batting, were flamboyant, beautiful, indifferent and tortured, all at the same time. That he still managed to put together as many records as he did is testament to his otherworldly talent.
The journey of the genius born on the 2nd of May, 1969, who went on to became the Prince of Trinidad, wasn’t always smooth, but it made for some spectacular viewing. And like every other quirky thing about him, Lara was bestowed with one final quirky award – he was appointed the Honorary Member of the Order of Australia in 2009. That’s Brian Charles Lara for you – the ultimate maverick, and perhaps the most visually appealing batsman to have ever graced the game.
For the customary video, there can be no clip more suitable than a highlights compilation of that knock of 153 against Australia. This was batting at its toughest, and also at its most gorgeous. It was deservedly named as the second greatest Test innings ever played by Wisden. Take a look!
These are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – Bill O’Reilly; No. 19 – Fred Trueman; No. 18 – Dennis Lillee; No. 17 – Sunil Gavaskar; No. 16 – Steve Waugh; No. 15 – Kapil Dev; No. 14 – Malcolm Marshall; No. 13 – Glenn McGrath; No. 12 – Imran Khan
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: