Bye Prince!

“Did I entertain?” the Prince asked as the crowd roared in the affirmative. The tear waiting in his eyes travelled down my cheeks… quicker than the speed of that spherical piece of leather meeting its fate (read his willow), only to be picked up behind square boundary by a boy belonging to the academy, dreaming to become Lara some years down the lane. The farewell was not as extravagant as his dancing pull nor was it lavish like his picture perfect square cut. The last super 8 match nevertheless was a West Indian loss in more ways than one!

As far as cricket is concerned, I have been, over the years, emotional about two things, Indian cricket and Lara’s cricket. Seldom can I forget those countless nights I spent in front of my TV set, constantly adjusting the volume, making sure that I don’t wake up ‘appa’ but at the same time listen to every little comment that the Blofelds and Benauds give on Lara. The master technician he is, Lara can invite packed crowds in any part of the cricket world, which only sub-continent super heroes like the Tendulkars or the Jayasuriyas can think of. He named his daughter ‘Sydney’ as a tribute to one of his favourite grounds, the SCG than witnessed his first test century. If tributes can be made thus, Lara’s wife would’ve to endure many such pregnancies, for the number of grounds that has been glorified by this great batsman is huge! Agnes is the luckiest in more ways than one. She has witnessed him take shape right from a blank canvas to a painting to the most perfect portrait that is Brian Charles Lara. She was the bow that ensured that the arrow, her brother, hit the bull’s eye every time he took stance. Taking him day in and day out to the academy, sitting in the bench for countless hours of practice and making sure that his focus is not lost… Agnes, the world of cricket bows down!

Killing warriors is not child’s play. Wasim Akram was fully aware of this fact even when the Prince took stance in one of the league matches in the ’92 WC. This was one of the first matches that I caught a glimpse of this genius. Lara was at his mercurial best, pulling and driving at will. Akram knew that he can’t fell this soldier but can delay the inevitable by injuring him. A Yorker wounded the unquenched lion as it was taken back to its den with 88 runs already added to the team score. Right from his early days, Lara has remained an entertainer, a master craftsman who weaved and created art with √©lan. Such was his hand-eye co-ordination that the elegant high back lift and the huge shuffle across the stumps against the deadliest of fast bowlers didn’t deter his immaculate sense of timing. When Lara wielded his weapon to showcase his flamboyance, the game was beautified. Ever time he too guard, a masterpiece waited to be created… made of sweet cover drives, skilful pulls and lofted sixes… by the magician, out of thin air… When in his elements Lara always played the mental game. The totality of his dominance was such that he most often started manipulating the fielding captain and his thoughts. Adventurism was in his blood and never ever did he restrain himself from innovating and improvising at every chance. The situation would be such that the team would want him to stay, as was the case with every innings he played, when he would gently guide the Fraser bouncer inches above the second slip’s dying fingers or late cut the Murali doosra with such delicacy that the keeper can but wait and watch. Every shot in his mammoth 375 speaks volumes of his brilliance. At one point of time, the English bowlers lost all hopes of stopping him, so much so that they stood in their positions marveling at the exquisiteness of his display and waiting for him to get out by himself. The 153 that took West Indies home against the touring Aussies, according to me, was one of the most defining moments of his illustrious career. His effortless assault against Steve Waugh’s men to take the match single handedly will, for sure, go down as one of the gutsiest displays of batting in the pages of cricketing history.

Neville Cardus would’ve created an epic for this man no doubt. There was music in his batting. He played to the calypso of the Kensington ovals and the Sabina Parks. The sweet sound that emanated when the ball met the piece of wood right in the middle as he danced down the track to humiliate many a great bowler was just any connoisseur’s delight. He was swifter than wind and stronger than rock. Neither can Mcgrath nor Warne, both tormented by this guy more than once, deny the fact that he was one batsman who played spin and swing with equal ease and elegance. That he accumulated the most number of runs in an over, an innings and a career carries ample testimony to his thirst for more. Not many know that Lara scored 42% of the West Indies’ runs in the ’01-’02 SL series!! Admiring Lara has been an almost regular habit for many involved with the game for the past decade and a half. So many rival captains, cricketers past and present, spectators and writers… he inspired awe in many. Gilchrist was one such devotee. I read this interesting snippet from an article. During the series in 2003, Lara was in full bloom in one of the tests. The Australian captain moved the deep mid wicket fielder to add on to the man already guarding point. Gilchrist heard Lara murmer “Mistake!”. The very next thing Gilchrist saw was the ball disappearing over mid wicket for the maximum. Gilly taunted Lara to beat the two point fieldsmen and the very next ball marked the mid point between both the men only to land in the boundary. A repeat show the very next ball too and Gilly decided that it is better to remain silent… He was a helmeted Richards, an armoured Sobers and a padded Bradman all rolled into one. He had not many contemporaries to match… in terms of batsmanship, his spirit for the game, his sheer class and elegance… no one can!

Karan Johar can weave a perfect Indian melodrama with Lara’s life. Both on and off the field, his life was dotted with controversies and glories, failures and comebacks. He was the only witness to the rapid decline of a potent empire from the time when sun set on Richards’ career till date. The lone warrior who openly declared that he was ready to trade all his records for West Indian victories, his love for the Island nation’s cricket was immense and yet he never made a successful captain. His three stints as captain brought out flashes of his tactical brilliance yet he never succeeded in getting beyond board politics to excel in man-management. Great cricketers seldom make great captains because of the fact that they expect the same level of proficiency from each team member. His controversial stand against the board more than once made sure than there were too many breaks in his career. And before a critic could complete an article writing off Brian Charles Lara, he emerged as Brian Blitzkrieg Lara, only to bask again in glory… and more glory.

Trinidad and Tobago is a place that I’d die to visit in my lifetime. Brian Lara Boutique, Brian Lara Street, Brian Lara Bar and now a Brian Lara Stadium… every man here, I heard, knows cricket and Lara even better than his wife’s name. When WI lost that super eight match by a whisker, the camera incidentally focussed on a sobbing woman, with real emotion in her swollen eyes. Her face will stay etched in my mind and eyes just like each of his shots… long after the Prince stops wielding his sword!