The Calypso King

 THE CALYPSO KING

Brian Charles Lara

Copyright by Sanjit Misra , All rights reserved .

His batting had classic poise and was imbued with the splendour of regal lineage. He was nimble on his feet, possessed the power of a sabre when he played the square cuts and had the beauty of the rhythm in his drives. He is Brain Charles Lara, the Calypso king who lords over the shores of the Caribbean.

There was as much vigour in his words as in his batting when he spoke at an event recently that I was privileged to be a part of.

It was ironic that Lara was the youngest of eleven siblings. The number eleven seems to have ordained that it would be in the game of Cricket where Lara would earn his laurels. He and his brothers and sisters lived in a three-room house in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The front room was for the parents, the middle room was for the sister and Lara and his brothers were tucked into the last room. He played football for six months of the year and spent the other six months honing his cricketing skills, albeit he rarely used get a chance to bat as his turn used to come after that of his nine elder brothers. However, Lara benefited a lot as his batting improved by playing with older kids. Lara’ favourite cricketer in his childhood was the left handed West Indian opener Roy Fredricks. Lara modelled his batting on Fredricks and on the irrepressible Vivian Richards.

Lara made his debut in a regional One Day match at the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His parents and his friends had gathered there and clapped as Lara went out to bat.  He wanted to score a century to make his family happy. But fortune had ordained something else. Lara fatally nicked the first ball to the keeper and his brief moment in the sun was over. It was baptism of fire for the boy who was destined for greatness. Success was waiting further down the path of life with her smiles and laurels.

Subsequently Lara played in a Provincial game between Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados at the hallowed Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. Malcolm Marshall bowled a wide ball to him. Lara spread out his arms and signalled to the umpire to call it a wide. The umpire quite hesitantly gave it as a wide as he did not want to antagonize Marshall.  Marshall glared at Lara and said, “ Don’t do that ever again or I shall kill you “. Some months later in another game the great Malcolm Marshall knocked down the future Calypso king with a spiteful bouncer.

In the year 1993, West Indies was touring Australia and had barely drawn the first test and had lost the second. The magical halo around the greatest cricket team in the world had begun to diminish. The third test match was at Sydney. Lara enjoyed the lights and revelry at the Sydney Harbour on the eve of the third test and was clearly feeling the hangover the next day, which was the first day of the test match. Luckily Australia won the toss and Lara did not have to bat. The Aussies ran up a mammoth total of 503 for 9 declared. The Windies had a disastrous start and were 31 for 2 at the end of the second day. That evening Lara made up his mind that he is not going to get out and would bat till the very end. He along with Richie Richardson batted throughout Day 3 and Lara and Jimmy Adams batted almost the whole of day 4. He achieved his first test century and finally got out at the score of 277. It was a magnificent innings adorned with the fiercest of pulls and cuts and the most serene of drives.  West indies drew the match and then went to win the next two tests to clinch the Frank Worrel trophy 2-1. In memory of his this magnificent innings, Lara has named his daughter Sydney.

Lara admires Sachin Tendulkar for his technique and his ability to play in all conditions, Ricky Ponting for his exploits on hard and bouncy wickets and rates Jacques Kallis as the best all rounder ever, but if he wants one man to be in his team, it would be the “the Wall” Rahul Dravid. Lara rates Dravid as the best batsman of his era.

Viv Richards was quite intimidating as a captain. Once during the England tour of 1992, Desmond Haynes came back to the dressing room after a chat with Richards and blurted out “ I am a father of two kids and nobody talks to me like that”. His eyes were misty.

According to Lara, Curtly Ambrose, the scourge of batsmen was the funniest guy. He never used to bat at the nets. Once Captain Lara asked Curtly to bat at the nets. Curtly glared at him and said, “ Where have you been in the past 4 years? Curtly does not bat in the nets.” Curtly Ambrose had a notion that nobody should touch him or his hotel bed. Once Lara was sharing the hotel room with him. As Lara came into the room with his luggage, he saw Curtly Ambrose lying on his bed with his long legs sticking out. Lara mistakenly brushed against Curtly’s leg. Ambrose immediately took Lara by the neck and said, “ I will kill you”. Courtney Walsh, the gentle giant who was passing by, had to come and pacify Ambrose. Once on the tour of England, there was a tea break during the One day International. As the West Indies team came into the dressing room Viv Richards was fuming and admonished everyone for the poor performance. There was silence and then suddenly Ambrose said, “ I came here with nothing, I will go with nothing. But Viv, I know where your family and kids stay.” On this tour Lara was fined for breaking the team. Out of curiosity his lawyer asked the West Indies Cricket Board to see Curtly Ambrose’s conduct report. The report said that Curtly Ambrose was the most well-behaved and disciplined player. Nothing could be further away from the truth.

Lara had three stints as Captain of the West Indies Cricket team. He says people like him, Sachin and Viv expected the same level of application, commitment and ability from each of the other members of the team. As they themselves gave to the team However this is not how things work. Hence they were not successful captains. Lara said his man management skills were not good. Lara spoke about a point in time where West Indies had lost the previous test series and he was on the verge of being sacked as the captain.  Since the first test was at Trinidad, the Board let Lara continue as captain. The Board was worried that if they sacked Lara then either there would be no crowd at the stadium or there would be riots. The second test was at Jamaica and the porter at the airport refused to pick up Lara’s bag. The brickbats are as much stinging as the fragrance of the bouquets. As Lara went out to toss with Steve Waugh, the crowd booed Lara. Waugh said,” This is going to be tough mate”. When West Indies went in to field, Lara walked close to his team members instead of leading his men out as is customary. He said he was apprehensive that some one from the crowd may throw a bottle at him.  Courtney Walsh, the Jamaican put an arm around Lara’s shoulder to pacify the raucous crowd. This depicts the fractious and fragile nature of Windies Cricket. Lara was keen on leading the team for one last time in the 2007 World cup that was held in the Caribbean. However, the team’s bad performance in the cup made him retire from the sport. He felt that a new captain should lead the team without Lara in it. It would be bonfire of the past and dawn of a new beginning.

Lara feels that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is antiquated and is not running the development of Cricket properly. They are not focusing on the right thing and are mired in politics. He said that he would wait for the appropriate time to step in and help the team in official capacity.

There has been a drought of fast bowlers coming from the West Indies. Lara said that in the Mid Nineties, the West Indies Cricket board switched to making pitches, which were soft and slow, so that the matches would last for five days and the board would make more money. However, the upshot of this was that fast bowlers became an extinct species.

Lara is of the opinion that T20 cricket is important as that brings in the money for the Cricket Board, which can be spent on the developing the infrastructure.

His personal preference is to play test cricket. He is of the view that there has to be innovation in test matches to make them interesting. They could be played as 5 day limited over games so that a result is always achieved. Drawn matches make the game boring for the crowd.  He feels that test matches between the smaller teams are not viable.

Lara said that he would give up his world record of 400 not out to be in the all time great Windies team of the 1970s and 1980s. This speaks immensely about the selfless character, solemn resolve, and undying spirit of the Calypso King, the great Brian Charles Lara.

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