Opinion: My kingdom for a lifetime of Lara
The man who brought you 'Why I Won't Miss Sachin Tendulkar', Peter Miller offers the 'Best Batsman Ever' debate a superb alternative in Brian Lara.
Cricket has surrounded me all my life, but it wasn't until the mid nineties that I started to look at players with a critical eye. It was about this time that there was talk of Brian Charles Lara.
The first time I saw him bat was against England in the West Indies in 1994. He flayed the England bowlers in that series for 798 runs including a new world record innings of 375. It wouldn't have mattered if England had every member of their touring party, backroom staff included, in the field Lara would have found the boundary.
It wasn't just the weight of runs that had the teenage me gasping with pleasure, it was how he looked doing it. The huge backlift, the incredible bat speed, the effortless power. He was what I wanted to look like with a bat in my hand, but never could.
Just a few weeks after his record breaking efforts in Antigua he arrived as Warwickshire's overseas pro. Back in those days you saw some great players in county cricket, the season before Lara arrived Sir Viv Richards was at Glamorgan and almost every county seemed to have a fearsome West Indies quick. Nonetheless I was hugely excited by this signing. When the fixture list for the season was announced I worked out when I would have my first glimpse of the marvel in action.
I was not very happy when I discovered that I would not get to watch him until July 17th in a Sunday League match at Guildford. My anticipation only increased as Lara destroyed county attacks for fun, not least his momentous 501* against Durham. He had scored 1710 runs for Warkwickshire before the start of this game, and while his best performances had come in first class games he had been capable of one day brilliance. We arrived at the Woodbridge Road ground nice and early and got a seat behind the bowlers arm. Warwickshire won the toss and were batting. The openers strode out, but they were just a distraction that were in my way of seeing my newly acquired hero. Tony Piggott struck early and Neil Smith caught and bowled for 3. This was it. The time had come.
Lara walked to the crease to a generous applause and a buzz of excitement. He marked his guard to face the medium pace of Tony Murphy. It was David taking on Goliath, but this time it was the little guy who was the big favourite. Three balls later Lara edged the ball through to the keeper and was out for a duck.
I was stunned. So were the rest of the crowd, there was more of a gasp than a cheer from the Surrey supporters. An older me would have smiled to himself at the irony of travelling to watch one player only to see him fail so spectacularly. Warwickshire still won the game, just as they did almost every game that season, but I don't really remember much else.
That wasn't the last time I saw Lara bat in 1994. That year's NatWest Trophy final went to a reserve day thanks to rain and I got a ticket given to me. When I arrived Lara was batting and he scored an imperious 81, eventually caught on the boundary looking for quick runs at the death. I was happier, but I still wanted to see him score a hundred.
That opportunity came a year later when he was touring with the West Indies. I was at the Oval on the third day of the sixth and final Test of that series. Lara didn't disappoint. He showed the England bowlers as much contempt as he had in the series in the Caribbean cutting, pulling and driving his way to 179. He treated the then express Devon Malcolm like a medium pacer, charging down the pitch to him. When he got out tamely it was a surprise, but I had seen my Lara hundred. I was still devastated that it wasn't a double.
Lara cast an increasingly forlorn figure as he captained a fading West Indies side into the 2000s but I never lost my joy in watching him bat. When he went he was the leading Test run scoring of all time, and but for the politics of West Indian cricket he could have added to that total. He is the best player I have seen in my lifetime, and while others will tell me that assessment is wrong I will never think any different.
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