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    April 20, 2007

    Farewell, 'Prince' Lara

    Today’s victory by the West Indies over Bangladesh was overshadowed by the post match press conference when Windies captain Brian Lara stunningly announced that he would be retiring from international cricket after the Windies’ final World Cup match on Saturday. That Lara would retire from ODIs after the World Cup was well known, and he reiterated that a few days ago. However, Lara had previously indicated that he wanted to tour England during the summer, citing his desire to make a Test century at Lords, so his retirement from Tests is a surprise as well. Some will read between the lines and surmise that Lara learnt that the selectors intended not to pick him for the tour to England, so he decided to go out on his own. Whatever the reason for his decision to retire from international cricket, Lara deserves to retire on his own terms.There has been two sides to Lara’s career – his brilliance with the willow and his failures as captain. There have been occasions in the past, and will be in the future, to question Lara’s tactics on the field and his behaviour off it, but now is the time to reflect on the career of a man who made a habit of breaking records.

    In the debate surrounding who the best batsman in the world is, many names would be frequently mentioned, but to any West Indian, there would be only one name. Especially in the Test arena, none of Lara’s contemporaries can match his appetite for runs. The only blemish on his record as a batsman was the rut that he found himself in between November 1996 and April 2001 when he saw his Test average drop by over 12 runs from just over 60 to just below 48. If Lara had the consistency of Tendulkar or Ponting, then there would be no question as to who the finest batsman of his time was.

    Lara is the only man to have broken the record for the highest Test score, lost it and then regained it. At his retirement he will simultaneously hold the records for the highest Test score (400 n.o.), the highest First Class score (501n.o.) and the highest career run total in Tests (11,953). His career would have spanned 17 years and produced some of the finest moments in the history of cricket.

    The fact that his record breaking Test innings of 375 and 400n.o. are not even considered by most to be his finest, speaks to the quality of career that the Prince of Port of Spain enjoyed. His splendid debut century 277 against Australia at Sydney in 1993 was a sign of things to come. That innings certainly ranks up there among his best ever, and Lara's own fondness of that innings and of that ground led him to name his daughter Sydney. Unlike many who made their debut ton a big one, Lara continued to press for runs and his seemingly insatiable appetite for runs resulted in him breaking Sir Garry Sobers' long standing world record the following year with his 375 in Antigua against England. He followed that up a mere 2 months later with his 501 n.o. for Warwickshire to set the mark for highest First Class score ever. That innings came off only 427 balls and included over 300 runs in boundaries with 62 fours and 10 sixes.

    His finest Test innings, however, probably came during the extended dry spell mentioned above. In March of 1999, after being beaten by Australia by over 300 runs in the first test in Trinidad, including being bowled out for a humiliating 51 in the second innings, Lara led the fight back and almost single handedly won the series from the Aussies. His match winning 213 at Sabina Park was followed by arguably the greatest innings played by a batsman other than Don Bradman. In Barbados, with the West Indies needing 308 to win in the second innings, Lara made a magnificent 153n.o. as wickets tumbled at the other end. His 9th wicket partnership of 54 with Curtly Ambrose (12) made the difference after the Windies had been 248/8 against the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

    Perhaps Lara's most remarkable Test series was in Sri Lanka in 2001, when he scored 688 runs mastering a rampant Muralitharan. Lara scored 3 centuries in the series including 221 and 130 in a losing effort in third and final test. It was only the sixth time in Test history that a batsman sored a ton and a double in the same match. So dominant was Lara when compared to the rest of his teammates, that he amassed a whopping 42% of the Windies' three match total.

    In the ODI arena, his most memorable innings is probably his match-winning 111 off 97 balls against South Africa in the 1996 World Cup quarter finals. The highlight of his ODI career, according to Lara himself was the Windies improbable triumph in the 2004 Champions Trophy. In ODI cricket, he is one of 7 men to have scored more than 10,000 runs.

    Lara is retiring when he still is near the top of his game. At the current World Cup, he is averaging just over 41, while in his last Test series in Pakistan, he topped the West Indies batting with 448 runs at an average of 89.60, including a glorious 216. At one stretch in that innings Lara scored 60 runs from 29 Danish Kaneria deliveries. Only Don Bradman (12) has scored more Test double centuries than Lara's 9. In fact, Lara retires either first or second on the list of most scores of 100 or more (34, 2nd to Tendulkar's 35), over 150 (19, 1st all time), over 200 (9, 2nd to Bradman's 12), over 300 (2, joint first with Bradman), and 400+ (1st, his 400n.o. is Test cricket's sole quadruple century). Among the records that Lara holds is the one for most Test runs in an over. He made 28 off one Robin Peterson over in South Africa in 2003. He also has the third highest - 26 off one Kaneria over in that final double century of his in Pakistan. With that final double century in Pakistan, Lara joined the exclusive club of 6 men who have scored a century before lunch in a Test match.

    Lara was the face of West Indies cricket for the last decade and a half. He is the West Indies' most capped player in ODIs (299 after his final match) and second in Tests (131, Courtney Walsh played in 132). He holds virtually all the important West Indies batting records. While Lara is a symbolic link to the golden era of West Indies cricket, having played on the last dominant West Indies teams in the early nineties, the majority of his playing years were spent with the West Indies in decline. The fact that he has lost more Tests than any other player (63 Test losses) is a testament to the decline in talent around him.

    Lara's legacy will be debated for years to come. Whether or not his at times seemingly surly and aloof attitude has hurt West Indies' cricket more than his genius on the field has helped it will also be debated by cricket pundits. What is clear, however, is that Lara is one of most talented men to have ever played this game, and that the West Indies would have lost the last of their all-time great players from an era so fondly remembered.

    (Cross-posted from Rain, No Play)

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    Thus spake Sean @ 10:35 AM |
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    3 sledge(s):

    Thank you for a most informative post, and swaying the argument of who's the best.

    It is sad to see him leave, but West Indies cricket was indeed on a decline in his time. Hopefully things will pick up for them.

    They have lots of promising young(ish) players, and I can see them be a much bigger force next world cup.

    It is odd though, that the pitches have been so slow bowler friendly... In the old days WI fast bowlers were something most countries feared.

    By Blogger Reenen (20-Apr-2007, 12:47:00 PM)  

    Out of 232 innings, only 6 were not-out. I think that might be a record. Looking at the most-capped players, only Gooch and Botham had 6 not-outs (no one had less), but from less innings.

    Absolutely my favourite among the recent greats.

    By Blogger Geoff (20-Apr-2007, 4:08:00 PM)  

    It was a pleasure watching him bat, especially against spin! I'm tempted to call him the best player of spin in the last 15 years - on a consistent basis.

    The only thing I feel sad (and quite happy) about is that India never quite saw the best of his batting, at least in the free-flowing sense. He did score runs last year during India's tour of WI, but the batting wasn't exactly rivetting to watch.

    By Blogger Jagadish (20-Apr-2007, 8:45:00 PM)  

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