The Largeness of Lara

There was never any doubt that Brian Charles Lara would break the Test run scoring record held by that other great lefthander Allan Border. What was in doubt was the where and when, and how. After a string of starts in the earlier Tests versus Australia (including for the ROW 11) many Aussie cricket fans had all but given up hope of the World record falling in their Country. Some dubious umpiring decisions, and seemingly a slowing of the reflexes had added to the drama. In the end though we should have realised that Brian Lara is a man made for the big stage, and in what is most likely his last Test Match in Australia, he reached the milestone during a typical big hundred.

Where does this record place Lara in the list of greats? Like the charge of the Light Brigade there are many players moving inexorably towards the new mark that will be set by the West Indies champion; Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq to name just a few of the challengers. His record Test score of 400* and his record first class score of 501* may one day be passed. In fact the only Test records that should stand the test of time are the Test batting average of 99.96 and the 19 wickets claimed in a Test Match.

Despite his records and undeniable talent, even the title of best contemporary batsman cannot be confidently bestowed upon Brian Lara. His main rival for that honour is undisputedly the little Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar. The way most people circumvent this problem is by crowning Lara as the best contemporary lefthander in world cricket. The decision about which player is the finer is best left with future “cricket tragics” to decide. If it was ever put to a vote the one billion Indian cricket fans might make things hard for our subject.

What is not in doubt is that Brian Lara has had the hardest road of any of the great batsman, probably since that other legendary West Indian batsman George Headley, who was known as “Atlas” as the rest of his teams batting rested on him. “Atlas” would certainly be an apt description of Lara, his is the one wicket all opposition bowlers want when playing the West Indies. There is a palatable feeling of the bowlers lifting, of the fieldsman being just a little more on edge when Lara takes strike. It is not quite as bad ‘as one out all out’ but on occasions it is not far off the mark. The inning that brought him the Test run scoring record is a typical example B.C. Lara 226 next best 34.

When other countries play Australia they are faced with a number of “class” batsman, so whom do they target? Langer, Hayden, Ponting or Gilchrist. Even India has Dravid, Sehwag, and Laxman, apart from Sachin. Add to this a some what frail top order and Lara who normally bats number four often finds himself facing the new ball with all of his countries hopes resting on his shoulders. What would Brian Lara have averaged in a different era? Imagine a line-up of Haynes, Greenidge, Richards, Lara, and Richardson etc. throw in one of the greatest bowling attack in history and surely Brian Lara would have averaged considerably more than his already impressive Test Average of 54.

Not since Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford has a player shown such a huge appetite for the big score, in fact only Lara and Ponsford have made it to 400 on two occasions. It is this ability for the mammoth score that has elevated Lara to legendary status. Matthew Hayden tells the story of Brian Lara ringing him as soon as he had claimed the World Test score after posting 380 against Zimbabwe. Hayden hinted that he thought Lara wanted his world record back. History tells us Lara did claim his record back, and in very quick time. This unique ability to not only concentrate for hours on end, but to keep the score board ticking over, seems to be a gift bestowed on only a select few, hence the term once in a generation player.

Brian Lara with a bat lift higher than Tiger Woods when driving on a par five. He has experienced the highs and lows of international fame and cricket stardom. With batting slumps that have seen his average fall below fifty to allegations of selfishness and greed over sponsorship deals. In his prime he was one of those genuinely rare batsman of which their have been less than a dozen in the annals of cricket, whom you could say it did not matter what you bowled they could still hit you to the boundary. If Brian Lara has come to terms with the fact that he can most likely not dismiss the worlds best bowlers to the boundary four or fives times in an over, and if he is content to play to the limitations that age has now forced him to accept I see no reason why he can not play on to the age of 40+ and set the Test scoring record to around 15,000. Now that will give the rest of the pack something to chase.

My favourite dust jacket for a cricket book belongs to Pageant of Cricket by David Frith on it there is an artist impression of the greats from cricket history striding across Lords. At the head of the vanguard is W.G. Grace on his left, is the confidently striding Bradman on his right, throwing a cricket ball is Dennis Lillee. Other greats in the front row include Jack Hobbs, Garry Sobers and Jim Laker. The book was published in 1987. I wonder if the book is ever re-released where B.C. Lara would fit in?

Last word to the now number two Test run scorer Allan Border, after describing Lara as a genius he went on to say ” Lara is in the top three or four batsman of all time. You could argue about who is better than who in that echelon”.

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