POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 20, 2007 AT 08:26 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 20, 2007 08:26 IST
The delivery was a perfect yorker on middle stump. “You have said you will continue to play Test cricket till you are 40. Does that decision still hold?”, asked a journalist at the post match press conference after West Indies had convincingly beaten Bangladesh. Brian Lara, the master, dispatched it over long off with ease. “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. Stunned journalists took a few seconds to react. Soon after regaining their composure, some of them thrust autograph books in front of the biggest cricketing legend of our generation as if this was the last occasion he would ever sign autographs. Others, still dazed, looked at each other with blank smiles that said it all. “They had been stumped.” He obliged each of the autograph seekers with patience before walking out of the side door to the privacy of the West Indian dressing room. In that one sentence, lasting no more than 3-4 seconds, a routine press conference had been elevated to another level. It had become the defining moment of CWC 2007, signaling the end of an era in international cricket. That single sentence had changed West Indies cricket for all times to come.

In hindsight, there were enough indications that something drastic was coming. The norm for press conferences is that the captain accompanies the Man of the Match to the conference room. Going strictly by the book, Lara should have come to the press briefing with Sarwan (Mom) in tow. Interestingly, they did enter the conference room together. But in a flash Lara went out and Imran Khan, the West Indies media manager, started the proceedings with Sarwan in the box seat. Sarwan, almost certain to lead West Indies in England next month, was all smiles every time a captaincy related question was asked. To his credit, however, did not drop his guard. Nor did he give any indication to what was coming, even if he had known it before as Lara later claimed. Soon after Sarwan had finished, Lara walked in. The very first question was about his future and he immediately brushed it aside. “Can we concentrate on today’s game and the game on Saturday please?” was his request. But journalists being journalists, he was constantly bothered with questions on captaincy, on whether he had the team of his choice for the world cup and on the way forward for Caribbean cricket.

For about 10 minutes, Lara presented a dead to all these viciously turning deliveries on a dust bowl. “This is not the time to discuss these issues. The team is good enough, the talent is there, but in international sport, success stems from a lot more than the 11 players on the field. Our cricket needs a strong foundation. We have to dig deep. We've got some guys who are good thinkers on the game on the cricket committee. We need to find the right plan. It's not going to be easy and we can't look for too much.” He even tried to pose as if his entire concentration was on Saturday’s game. “We've still got a job to do on Saturday. It's nice to get back on the winning trail. We've not won a game since Jamaica. And though it's come a couple of matches too late, we still have a World Cup to finish. The fans are still coming out to watch us. You wonder if the support is going to be there. It was a tremendous turnout to watch a team that had no chance of reaching the semi-finals.”

But with the conference drawing to a close and with the barrage of critical questions continuing, the guard finally dropped. Or rather, Lara, always in charge, must have deliberately dropped his guard knowing it was time to move his queen to that defining square from where there’s one simple command, “Check Mate.” In fact, each word that was uttered about his retirement was met with a kind of bewilderment I haven’t seen before. And soon after the conference had ended, mobiles came out in a huff with reporters from every corner of the world calling their editors back home. It was time to inform them of the single biggest cricketing story of the day. “The king has retired. Long live the king.” The West Indies England encounter, an inconsequential super eight encounter, has already assumed a billing equal to that of the final. And why not? The entire Caribbean will have an opportunity to bid goodbye to its most controversial star ever. A genius who’s multiple flaws has added to his charm.
POSTED BY Boria Majumdar ON Apr 20, 2007 AT 08:26 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 20, 2007 08:26 IST
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