POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 21, 2007 AT 22:57 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 21, 2007 22:57 IST
With Lara, the end had to be extraordinary. Tame may be, but out of the ordinary. He had just hit two fours and the press box was just about warming up for one final Lara show. That’s when Samuels hit the ball to mid-on, Lara takes his the last few fatal steps down the wicket and Pietersen’s under arm throw crashes into the wicket. Simple but painful. One look at the sky and one gaze at the non striker and that heartrending final trudge back to the pavilion. Just as he was about to disappear for the final time into the safe haven of the dressing room, home for 17 long years, he decided to stop. Bat and hands aloft, he waved at the crowd, which had gathered in full throttle to pay homage to Lara. A match of little meaning had been transformed by one man into the match of the tournament for men here in the Caribbean . Lara may have failed to lead his team into the semi-finals but he had surely made the world cup for the organizers. Just about everybody had stood up at the ground. Nasser Hussain, sitting next to me at the media enclosure, was clapping in admiration. Everyone was. And the local fans had gone berserk. The Lara songs went off again, the drumming started and the ground was buzzing. The only difference was that this was a celebration of pathos, a lament that the icon had finally finished his breathtaking journey.

It was June 2005 and we were shooting a documentary on India West Indies cricket for Taj Television in Barbados . The Bridgetown Test match had just ended and Brian Lara had single-handedly demolished the Pakistani bowling scoring a magical 130 in the process. As a gift to himself, he was partying hard at the Barbados boatyard that evening. It was my closest encounter with the man who has given us, cricket aficionados from across the world, unparalleled joy for more than a decade and a half. Seeing him at such close proximity, I was tempted to just go and feel those hands that can, or should I now say could, with one flourish dispatch a Danish Kaneria googly over the square cover fence, keep Glen McGrath at bay and single-handedly win a Test match for the West Indies against Australia scoring 153 not out and snub Muralitharan in a manner he has never been subjected to in his cricketing career. For the record, the same Kaneria had a couple of months before mesmerized Tendulkar and Co. at Banglore.

Any documentary on India West Indies cricket had to have an episode on Lara. And who best to talk about the conqueror than the conquered. As Pakistan was practicing a couple of mornings later at the Sabina Park in Jamaica , the venue of the second and last Test of the series, we went and caught up with Kaneria. Posing the question that has now been posed a million times over we got an emphatic answer from a non-effusive person. Here’s a translation of what Kaneria told us in Hindi: “Lara is far better than Sachin. Soon after he came out to bat at Bridgetown , I started bowling googlies to him. It was apparent that he wasn’t reading the ball well and I was confident that I could clean him up quickly. However, he soon started stepping out to me and in no time did I see myself being taken off by the captain. What had transpired in the meantime was that Lara had destroyed my figures. I simply could not believe how one could lift the turning ball inside out over square cover for six.”

My second cricketing visit to the Caribbean was in February 2007 to cover the opening of the new Kensington Oval, the venue of the world cup final. I was in Barbados to do a few interviews, general routine stuff to be used as world cup build up for the Indian television channel Times Now. And one of the questions I was briefed to ask former West Indian players was how they rated Lara as skipper. Here’s a snapshot into some of the conversations:

Carlisle Best: “Lara’s legacy can never be like Viv’s. Lara is a great batsman but he is not a good skipper. The team is not often a team under him.”

David Allan: “When compared to Worrell and Sobers, Lara’s will be a flawed legacy. I don’t know what is wrong with West Indies cricket because I am not in the dressing room. But something I do know is that something is wrong, seriously wrong.”

What the Kaneria interaction and the Best and Allan opinions demonstrate is that Brian Lara is a ‘complex’ almost impossible to unravel. On the one hand, he is the last of West Indies cricketers to have treated cricket as a means of liberation. How else can we describe his determination to win back the record for the highest Test score from Mathew Hayden? Lara’s cricketing flair was the last remaining vestige of black resurgence amidst superior Western power hitting. Post Lara, the West Indies team will be a bunch of competitive mediocres. On the other hand, the liberator was on many occasions a selfish autocrat. Had he declared rather than trying to score 400, West Indies may have won that Test match against England in Antigua .

A knotty genius, Lara leaves behind a legacy deeply mired in contradictions. While some like Wes Hall are deeply appreciative, “I am at a loss for words. He was a great servant to West Indies cricket. His legacy is fantastic, a great batsman, 400 in a Test, 501 in first-class cricket, I mean it's a big legacy", others, ordinary cricket fans, are not. Says Eddie, our local taxi driver here in Barbados , “Lara isn’t one of us. He is a foreigner who played for us. I don’t see that passion in him. He plays for himself.” If you think he is a bit harsh, taste this, “Lara is a snob. And a snob can never be a good leader. He was never a team player. He deliberately let Carl Hooper down when he was captain. He hated players like Walsh you see”, a former West Indian player speaking on conditions of anonymity.

Trying to deconstruct his penultimate press conference too is an arduous task. A mundane press meet had suddenly turned controversial when Lara announced his decision to quit international cricket. The penchant for drama, yet another Lara trait, was at the root of this. Mark his last words at the briefing: “I will not take any more questions after this. I gave extensive consideration to this. I want everybody to know that on Saturday I'll be playing my last international match. I've already spoken to the board and the players about this." Having said that he got up to leave. And knowing full well that stunned TV reporters would queue up for one exclusive quote in front of the stairs coming out of the Gary Sobers pavilion, he walked out of the stairs at the back and disappeared. As one young Indian journalist suggested, “He is very clever. He will not come out because he knows we are waiting.” That is what Lara is. A man to never shy away from challenges, but one who is a challenge to himself and to the rest of the world. And world cricket is in mourning becasue the challenge has finally come to an end.
POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 21, 2007 AT 22:57 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 21, 2007 22:57 IST
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