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The greatest batsmen of the modern era: #1 Brian Lara

The West Indies in better times. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Roar Pro
14th September, 2013
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Although not as technically sound as Sachin Tendulkar nor as dominant against the short ball as Ricky Ponting, Brian Charles Lara was an outlier even to this league of extraordinary gentlemen.

A glance his cricinfo profile page will reveal a flattering account of his career in numbers, a viewing of one of his many centuries will engender an appreciation of his once in a lifetime value.

Recognisable by his extravagant, guillotine like backlift and a pronounced crouch in his otherwise impeccable batting stance, Lara wasn’t just a brilliant player but a pleasure to watch.

He was every bit of an entertainer as a sportsman, and a man who would undeviatingly dictate when you would conveniently tell your boss you had glandular fever or explain to your girlfriend it was strictly a gathering for those with y chromosomes.

A maverick among mavericks, Lara knew his game like James Bond knows females.

Armed with a ferocious square drive and scintillating cut shot, Lara dealt severely with any width and left many a point and cover fieldsman terrified.

His extraordinary backlift allowed him to strike the ball with extreme velocity, yet he possessed the deft touch of a French painter to compliment it.

There is no adjective in the English language that could adequately describe the ease in which he accounted for spinners. Perhaps Robin Petersen could enlighten us.

But all these details are common knowledge, the enormity of his achievements are either ignorantly disregarded or simply not realised.

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The Prince began his international career in 1990 and by the time he loosened his jockstrap for the final time in 2007, he had the record for the highest Test score, the second most double centuries of all time and three of the greatest innings ever complied, according to Wisden.

Coupled with a Test average of over 50 and over 50 international centuries on the resume, his figures are outstanding in themselves.

His true greatness however, lay in the overwhelming responsibility he held for the nearly the entire duration of his career.

Peruse through every scorecard of his 131 Test matches and 299 one-day internationals and his name almost jumps out at you in bold and underlined font, as the vast majority of his fellow island dwelling acolytes possessed the skill set of a Sunday Moore Park league hacker.

Yes there were exceptions, Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were all very good players, but of this group only Chanderpaul has scored consistent runs for a significant period of time.

Chanderpaul was also a far inferior player away from home, never having registered a century in Australia and having a difference in average of over 16 runs in countries where his passport was required.

Conversely, Lara relished the opportunities abroad, scoring big hundreds in South Africa, England, Australia and the subcontinent.

The West Indies were an ordinary team for much of Lara’s career, he began with a lethal pace battery of Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh to support his self-inflicted totals but as we entered the new millennium not only did The Prince have very few capable batting partners but he had bowlers who would make John Howard look like a reasonable grade cricketer.

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His name then became etched in gold, size 52 font on the West Indian team sheet.

For 17 years, Lara was the West Indies cricket team; opposition sides knew if he were to be removed early it was literally game, set, and match.

He held the unflattering record for a time of being a member of a losing side on the most occasions, all the while churning out brilliant performances at the tip of a hat and keeping his team competitive.

The West Indies, after all, had such a proud history in the game that it crushed patriotic cricket lovers to acknowledge the volatile demise they were suffering.

Lara was the glimmer of hope, the one man who could restore respectability and keep the sport alive in the Caribbean.

He did it all with such panache and bravado, one marvels at how he was never really effected by the pressure he bore.

Ponting had dogged determination and aggression, embodying the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ mentality Australians worship.

While his achievements as a batsman should not be trivialised, he benefited largely from the strength of his unit.

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Tendulkar has poise, grace, and the closest thing to a perfect temperament and technique one could envisage.

He, like Lara, carried his nation’s hopes as though he was negotiating their way out of a nuclear war. But the latter did it alone and with such audacity.

You could have forgiven Lara for withering away at the hands of expectation or going into his shell out of desperation to survive. But he didn’t shirk.

He encapsulated flamboyance; he was the definition of flair. As the floodlights dimmed at Kensington oval in Bridgetown for what was to be Lara’s final international appearance, he asked the remaining fans, “did I entertain?”

Yes Brian, we weren’t for a moment occupying the full capacity of our seats. You were, as Tina Turner once famously put it, simply the best.