Ask a hundred cricket fans to draw up a list of five former players who would have excelled in the Twenty20 format, and the chances are each one of them would have one common name – Brian Charles Lara.
The Trinidadian, who turned 46 earlier this week, terrorised bowlers in an international career that spanned 131 Test matches and 299 One Day Internationals, but did not feature in any T20 Internationals.
It was not the mountains of runs Lara scored – which includes the only 500 ever scored in first-class cricket (501 not out against Durham at Edgbaston in 1994), and the only 400 ever made in Test cricket (400 not out against England at Antigua in 2004) – but also the blinding pace at which he went about piling them up.
Standing just five feet six inches in height and modestly built, Lara never gave hell to the red cherry. Instead, he did it with one of the craftiest bit of footwork in the business, and a lovely arc of the bat which seemed to generate nuclear-like power just because of his perfect timing.
— Shahzad Tirmizi Syed (@shahzadtirmizi) May 2, 2015
So, one can understand the pain of fans for not being able to enjoy Lara’s craft in the shortest format of the game. It also meant that Lara himself missed out on considerable financial reward, because he would have surely been the most sought-after star for any franchisee in any T20 league.
However, while playing the Icons Cup in Dubai recently, where he was part of the Darren Clarke-led Rest of the World team that took on Fred Couples’ Americans in a Ryder Cup-like celebrity golf tournament, Lara said he never felt any regret about his years in international cricket.
“Not at all. I really enjoyed the period in which I played my cricket,” said Lara, the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1995. “I can look back now and wish I started 10 years later and played in the T20s. But I also wish I was born 10 years earlier so that I could have been part of the all-conquering West Indies team of that time.
“I am very happy about when I started. West Indies cricket was in decline, but I believe that was my role… to try and keep the flag flying. I loved every minute of my 17-year career, all the Test matches, the ODIs and the World Cups.
“The only disappointment, if you ask me, was I never won a World Cup for West Indies.”
Talking about the World Cup, Lara said he did not expect a lot from the West Indies team that travelled Down Under earlier this year (they qualified for the knockout stage and lost in the quarter-finals), but was enthused by the way they fought tooth and nail and ensured a drawn Test series against England.
“Not much was expected from them. I don’t believe that a team which wasn’t going with their best players could have done any better,” said Lara, who named his daughter Sydney because of his love for the Sydney Cricket Ground, where he scored a scintillating 277 in only his fifth Test.
“It was disappointing that Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard were left out. But I still cannot criticise the players.
“There was a lot of debate when the players walked out of that tour of India last year. But as a past player myself, I understand that relationship between the Board and the players.
“I applaud them when they win, even though it is very sporadic, but it really is tough being a West Indian cricketer especially in this environment. Just look at the technology in the game, the facilities…we are way back in the game compared to others.”
And yet, Lara sees enough character in the current West Indies ODI captain, the 23-year-old Jason Holder, and the new national coach, former opener Phil Simmons, that makes him optimistic for the future.
“Jason’s just been unbelievable. What a man! He was thrust into the leadership role for the World Cup at such a young age, and then I saw him bowl to AB de Villiers and get smashed for 60-something in two overs (at Sydney, where de Villiers scored a record unbeaten 162 in 66 balls),” Lara added.
“I could see he was a broken man at that point of time. What I greatly admire is that he picked himself up really well after that. He handles himself very well. I mean, how good was that hundred from him in the first Test against England? He really is a champion bloke and the kind of personality you’d want to be in the West Indies team.
“As for Phil, he had a lot of experience with Ireland, but that is a different cup of tea. Any improvement you get from a team like them, will look good on you. But this is West Indies. Of course, we have been in the doldrums for some time. but we have a huge reputation, and there will be massive expectations.
Well played an emerging West Indies side. England need to find some pace some (consistent) spin and an opener…
— simon hughes (@theanalyst) May 3, 2015
“It’s going to be a tough job and the series against England was just the starting point. There will be a lot of scrutiny. He will have to get the respect from his team, and also from the Board, which is a huge task.”
Talking of the Board, does Lara see guys like Bravo and Pollard getting back into the team?
“That is one thing that Phil will have to do. I don’t think these guys are out only for cricketing reasons. So I hope they all meet and find some solution, because we want to have our best team out there,” he added.
“These are guys who are a positive influence on the team. Others may have the stats to be part of the team, but are they able to influence other players like Bravo and Pollard can? You definitely need guys like them.”