Monday, April 23, 2007

That's all folks - no more Lara!

You are on a week long all-expenses-paid trip to the Hawaiian islands. You wake up on the 5th morning at Honolulu only to get a message from your sponsors that your trip is aborted with immediate effect.

Or, you move out of town for five days to attend a wedding at a remote area. You come back in town and learn that the one cricketer you hated to miss even for a single game has played his last in all forms of the sport.

The former is more shocking, if only because you did not see it coming. But then it only takes a few curses and a smooth passage back home to a happy family to forget all about it. Try emptying the gallons of regret oozing from a fan’s heart when the rarest batsman - a combo version of the greatest and the most attractive in at least three decades of cricket - bids adieu without so much as giving the fan a chance to stand up and applaud his idol when he departs for the last time.

The only time I saw him from the stands of a cricket ground was way back in 1994 in a tri series final at Eden Gardens. He scored something like a blob in it. But no one can take away the memory of those few hours of live cricket watching till the wee hours inside a hotel room 1000+ miles away from home when he scored that 153 not out to win the third test against Australia in 1999. It felt unbelievable then, and it still is hard work to believe that someone – even Brian Charles Lara - actually scripted a win in those circumstances.

This is a farewell post, but one where I am going to quote someone else’s words all along. It’s not as if I am unwilling to write one of mine but fortunately Rahul Bhattacharya has already given his masterly words in
this cricinfo piece published ahead of Lara's last match to most of the clumsily compiled points you would have found in an 'original' post of mine. Most exactly similar to my thoughts is this one:

I also came across a short note on the message boards of minutes after the understated announcement of retirement. "My hero since I was a very young boy. I've followed his career since de afro days at Fatima. Missed classes to watch him bat. This is a sad day for me."

It is for me too, because Lara's batsmanship was the greatest pleasure I derived out of cricket in the last two decades along with the bowling of Wasim Akram and I could have watched the game if they alone played it in the field.

That Rahul piece has so many gems on offer that I cannot resist quoting them here.

On Lara’s relatively lesser success in one day cricket:

He bows out now in a one-day match but it was not his preferred stage. Though his magical wrists, his intuition for gaps, his talent at going aerial were all suited to one-day cricket, not so the scale. The canvas was too small. Lara was of odysseys. He liked to get in, bat one, two days, score two, three, four hundred runs. Before such calibre, the limitations of one-day cricket were too petty.

On Lara’s brilliant backlift:

Having been unlucky in that way, it is from a one-day match that I have the best memories of watching Lara live. This was in Trinidad last year. The position was carefully determined so as to find the most unfettered view of that great big glittering backlift and wind-up. We settled somewhere between wide long-off and extra cover. Till he closed the issue with triumphant sixes off Harbhajan Singh, he played an innings of hard grit. So it was an hour or two of watching him size it up and really it was all I wanted to watch.

There comes a point in the Lara wind-up when all the game seems frozen. He is bent climatically at the knees, bat, as the cliché' has it, raised like a guillotine, eyes trained down the pitch and, surely, given his knack for reading of spin and swing, at the bowler's wrist. Insofar as the life of a cricket stroke goes, this is the fatal moment, the hairline between death, glory and a day at the office.

It is perhaps not normal to think of cricket shots in those terms. Yet nobody could make the spectator more alive to these possibilities. Nobody could pack so much drama, meaning in every shot of cricket. Consequently nobody could so illuminate the point that this is a sport of such independent events, of an infinite number of worlds. Nobody, for better or for worse, could so strongly confirm that this here is the ultimate individual sport played by a team.

On ‘the’ 153 not out:

Five years ago after a fair chase I did a satisfying interview with him. He told me a little story behind the 153 not out against Australia, perhaps his defining work in a career full of defining works. You remember the scenario, pay dispute, 0-5 in South Africa, 51 all out in the first Test, and then the brilliant double hundred to level the series before the classic Test at Bridgetown. A school friend, Nicholas Gomez, had presented him a Michael Jordan book. In it Jordan had spoken about his visualisation techniques. "I remember calling Gomez at six o'clock in the morning, the last morning of the Test match, and we went about planning this innings against the best team in the world." This was Lara's focus upon arousal, and if it deserted him he always found it back, and in the waxing and waning there was something reassuringly cyclical as it was frustrating.

On Lara’s Lara:

Nobody twinkled his feet so and angled his blade so and keep hitting gaps like Lara, an intuition sharpened in childhood when he arranged pots as fielders to practise. In 2003 a man at deep midwicket was taken out and put beside another behind point. This comes from Adam Gilchrist in The Australian a couple of seasons ago. "Mistake," hissed Lara. Next ball Lara lofted to midwicket for six. Gilchrist taunted Lara to take on the two men behind point instead. Lara strung it between them for four. Next ball was straighter, Lara backed away and strung it through again. Best remain silent now, Gilchrist then decided. This was to demonstrate precision of his skill. But I particularly liked "mistake". 'You don't know what I can do?' was the strut. That is the Lara motif.

And finally this:

Nobody made the game look better and few ever played it better. So look hard on Saturday because we may not see the likes of this again and if we do we can think back to Lara and smile.

I personally thank Rahul Bhattacharya for doing this article on his idol and mine. It befits a most special cricketer. I feel no need to add any more to what he has already said except that I was denied that chance to look hard at this incomprehensible creature on Saturday. It is as if Lara ran me out.

Cricket lovers from some future era will be thankful that television technology had made reasonable progress by the time Brian Charles Lara came to the scene. For this man is far, far beyond the scope of explanation through the numbers he leaves back against his name. Batsmen unworthy of comparison to him in genius have left (and will continue to leave) better figures of career achievement. Brian Lara is virtually the sole cricketer that makes the stats-happy person in me feel ashamed of even existing.

If anyone is still interested in having a peek at Lara's story in numbers here’s a
statistical career summary of Lara. Rahul finds the man in his figures:

Lara batted with sensual beauty and gluttonous appetite. To watch him move into position was to already understand the possibilities of this game. To study his figures was to marvel the scope of his conception. He made the most runs in an over, an innings, a career. Anything anyone did he did bigger.

It's all over folks. Now maybe we can stop bickering over what Prince Charles Lara of the Brian name could have been off the field and revel in the legacy of all that he chose to unravel on it.


~skepticbystander~ said...

Awesome post. Does Lara justice... as few things can :)
Have been reading your blog lately - very interesting & well written. Would love to read more about the business of cricket & the changes BCCI has made.
By the way... You should consider competing for the cricket blogging contest - - I think you'd make a strong contender.
Look forward to reading more posts. Laterz..

angshu said...

Thanks mate. Credit - or at leaast 75% of it - goes to RahulB as usual.

I am not too good at the 'business' of cricket except a few sporadic rants here and then; it is the romance of cricket that generally makes me blog.

As for the 'brave' BCCI changes, you can speak highly of the bravery of a moron (read 'BCCI') jumping into a sleeping tiger's cage to rescue a slipped child only if you missed the bit about another moron (read 'a cricket milking section of the media') having pushed him into it - all this when both needed to use their brains to think together, keep quiet, bring a rope, tie a bucket and bring the kid out.

I'm still not convinced there is a long term plan in place as yet, and that the individuals (BCCI officials or players) will be secondary to the system being put in place.