April 2005: Bri-lliant

The English summer looms on the horizon, and the prospect of the Ashes stands tall in front of cricket’s aficionados world-wide, casting its shadow over the months in front. April, nonetheless, was sufficiently illuminated to escape the shade of the hype. Pakistan and India scrapped throughout a one-day series marked by a scarcely believable turn-around, Inzamam leading by example with the bat, Naved-ul-Hasan standing balding head and shoulders above any other seam bowler, and Shahid Afridi bludgeoning the second fastest ODI century of all time.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, South Africa inflicted another home series defeat upon a ragged West Indian side, dishevelled by the Digicel/Cable and Wireless sponsorship conflict and taken apart by the pace of Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini despite the heroic resistance of Brian Lara. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers feasted upon a home seam attack bereft of penetration, potency and pace, and Chris Gayle rounded off the series with a triple century in a farcically lifeless Test on a similarly lethargic wicket in Antigua, as South Africa used eleven bowlers in an innings.

Enough performances to reward several times over, and plenty to make selecting one stand-out a far tougher job than previous months’ head-to-heads. So who won’t it be? Whilst no triple-century should ever be sniffed at, the presence of Prince, Gibbs and Boucher in the bowling analysis in addition to the other seven centuries in the Test match combine to lessen the magnitude of Gayle’s achievement – and the fact that his other four innings contributed twelve runs also pushes the opener out of the picture.

Kallis, Smith and de Villiers added 1,357 runs between them, including seven centuries as they flayed the Windies attack, seemingly in a permanent state of flux as Gayle, Collins, King, Powell, Deonarine, Best, Bravo, Washington, Edwards and two varieties of Hinds showed their hands, to all parts of the Caribbean. Yet none stood above the rest – Smith topped the tallies of runs and centuries, Kallis recorded the highest average whilst de Villiers hit the highest score, his 178 also a personal first-class best – their own depth thwarting individual aspirations of excellence.

In the subcontinent, Pakistan’s skipper Inzamam recorded key contribution upon key contribution whilst his Akhtar-less attack was spearheaded by the tireless efforts of Naved-ul-Hasan whose bowling performance – fifteen wickets at 16, with one coming every twenty deliveries – stand out even more in comparison to the series’ second seamer – Ashish Nehra, whose eleven strikes came at a cost of almost seven an over. Nehra’s startling economy rate is the primary responsibility of one man and one man alone, Shahid Khan Afridi. Granted, one score above fifty in six innings is nothing to become over-excited about, but a strike rate of 172 (point nine five) is.

Bludgeoning twenty off an over became a regular occurrence as Indian skippers Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were unable to find any way to contain the all-rounder. Boundaries both square and straight as any aberrations of line or length were viciously punished by the Pakistani’s blade. There’s only so far big-hitting can go, however, and when it’s matched against one of the finest innings of a man’s life.

When it’s not one innings but two, then the achievement is even greater. Then, when that man is one Brian Charles Lara, there’s little more to be said. There are only so many adjectives in this world than can adequately encompass greatness and genius to a level where Lara stands at in today’s game. Centuries are made on an almost monotonous basis in the sphere of Test cricket today, but few captivate all that watch them to the extent that the Trinidadian’s double April efforts struck spectators at the Queen’s Park and Kennington Ovals.

When the walls come crashing down around, it takes an exceptional performance to stand tall – and when the walls are not so much crashing as plummeting, the effort moves onto a further, higher plane. At Port-of-Spain, Lara’s 196, including twenty-five boundaries, contributed 56.48% of the West Indies’ first-innings 347 before his 176 in Bridgetown added 59.46% of the first-innings 296. Each time, the second highest score was woefully incomparable – Shiv Chanderpaul striking 36 and 53. The reliance was further demonstrated in Barbados when his dismissal was the first of the five causing a capitulation from 286-5 to 296 all out.

Standing in comparison to April’s other effort, there can only be one conclusion drawn. Whilst not enough to save national pride, it’s certainly enough to become April’s Player of the Month.

Cricket Web Player of the Month
April 2005

Brian Lara

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