Brian Lara is a self-proclaimed superstar. Declaring so in the Union is a bold move, though, when you hold multiple cricket world records, and are the face of a PlayStation game, it is a title perhaps justified. “The Prince” is best known for his ridiculously high cricket scores, and is an icon of the game, with a name that means something even to the generation who never saw him play.
I unashamedly began the interview with a cliché; which innings was your best? However, surprising me straight off the bat (no, I’m not sorry), Lara claims the best feat was not his individual innings, but the team performances. He cites the record for the highest chase in test cricket; 418 against Australia along side winning the ICC trophy in 2004, “a couple of other wonderful test match victories that we’ve had”. However, I continue to press him on his own innings, basically playing a game of which world record is better. Lara claims that every record he had was “down to destiny”. The situation had to be perfect, it was because of this that he managed to score the big runs. He “never had any intention of scoring them… it was just destiny”.
A Google search of Lara will not only bring up his incredible cricketing scores, but also his continued struggles with his country’s Cricket Board, a precursor to the problems of Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, and the Englishmen, Kevin Pieterson. However, Lara is clearly proud of Caribbean cricket, especially its place in the islands’ independence movements. The West Indies is a unique test cricket team, in that they do not represent one single country, yet cricket has brought those represented islands together, ever since the team gained test status in 1928. For Lara, the “most significant period was around the 1950s, 1960s where the West Indies were becoming a force to be reckoned with within the cricketing world”. The appointment of the first black captain, Sir Frank Warren, in 1960, was hugely important as “you have to understand that the majority of the West Indies is of African descent and Indian descent and that to have someone representing the majority was very important at the time”. Lara was keen to stress the relationship between the people and cricket, and the role in which played in the independence movements, as it “spoke a different language, it spoke for the people”.
This link between the people and the game is one that Lara continued to focus on, as it is present in all aspects of cricket. When I pressed him, a clear icon, if cricket needs heroes, the answer was a resounding yes, partly for this reason. Lara argued that “in all teams there are going to be people that stand out” and “it is necessary that you have those guys who people pay money and go through the turnstiles to see. They don’t really want to see an entire team performance, there are going to be one or two individuals that are going to drag people out of their homes and into the stadiums”. Though cricket is a team sport, Lara seemed convinced of perhaps is own position as an individual player, and, indeed, “superstar”.
Since the glory days of West Indian cricket in the latter part of the 20th century, West Indian cricket has been on the decline, and commentators have pointed to the individualism so lauded by Lara as the root of this problem. When I put this point to him, however, it was met with emphatic disagreement, citing “a lot of other calamitous stuff happening in West Indies cricket” as the reasons for their poor current performances. Lara went on to emphasize that the problems facing the new coach Phil Simmons, came not from over individualistic players, but from the administration.
It is clear that Lara’s own disagreements and problems with the West Indies Cricket Board continue to affect him, and his view on the current struggles by players. Lara claims that “being a former player, I am very sympathetic to any player, be it Chris Gayle playing in Australia and the IPL or Dwayne Bravo who is doing the same. None of these guys grew up thinking about franchise cricket or playing cricket professionally abroad. They all wanted to represent the West Indies, and I know deep down inside they still want to.
The struggles between administrations and players are not new, as is evident in Lara’s view of the West Indian Cricket Board, yet players such as Gayle or Bravo have an option that was not open to Lara; franchise cricket. Avid listeners of TMS and followers of cricket will be well aware of the fear that some feel over the future of test cricket, with the rise of T20, and this is a matter I put to Lara, himself one of the most iconic test batsmen in history. Lara was very firm that “test cricket definitely has a place.” However, Lara sees any potential threat to the game in its long form coming not from the upstart of the IPL, but from the fixed triangle between India, England and Australia simply playing each other. Although this can bring people to watch games and makes money for home boards, he believes the triangle to be “a little bit of a negative” as there are nations that “want to play test cricket and they’re confined to just playing against the minnows. Not being in the big league is an issue”. For Lara, this is the crucial problem that the ICC needs to address, as “it is very important for West Indies cricket, as our history really lies in test cricket”.
Having made it very clear that men do not grow up dreaming of playing franchise cricket, Lara adds that he believes the IPL to be a “wonderful addition to the game”. As many supporters of its introduction claim, he sees it as “necessary” as the “game slowed down and crowd participation was less”. He returns to the link between the people and cricket, and the best part of the IPL is that it has brought a “new spectator” into the world of cricket. T20 gives an opportunity for those who do not enjoy cricket in its longer form to appreciate the game, and, for that, Lara is “very much pro the IPL”.
Throughout the conversation, it was evident that Lara strongly believed in the power of the people in cricket, and felt in solidarity with players shunned by their boards, yet supported by the people. I therefore confronted the proverbial elephant in the room; the matter of KP. When I asked him about his views on the matter, Lara pointed to the recent appointment of Andrew Strauss, emphasizing that “it was so unfortunate that the man in the position now in terms of the career over Kevin Pieterson or any future player…. is someone who doesn’t have any pleasant things to say”. Though he acknowledged that the recent victory over New Zealand in the first test was “pretty excellent”, the psychological effect on the team due to the “quagmire over KP” will be telling in the Ashes. Australia are coming to England this summer, aiming to win, and, in Lara’s words, “it will be tough to scrape even one”.
Though cricket is a team game, Lara is clearly of the view that individuals should be celebrated, and I therefore asked whether, the composition of a team should be thought about, or you should simply put out your best XI to win a game. Lara retuned to his point that cricket is about and for the people, stating that “if you asked the man on the street, he’d want to see Kevin Pieterson in the team, as he is a part of the best team in England.” Lara falls directly in the Piers Morgan camp of “he should play”, as “all other trivial matters should be handled as big boys should handle it”. Having made this point, Lara goes on to emphasize that he himself had “tussles with the board” but they were not made public, and, at the end of the day, if the best team contains Kevin Pieterson, “so be it”.
Lara clearly has strong views on cricket, and I asked him whether he would do an Andrew Strauss, and return in some official capacity to the game. However, it is clear that the wounds between himself and the West Indies Cricket Board have not healed, as it claims it is too tough for him to get involved if the “cricket administrators remain the same…with the same archaic thinking”. He sees his role as giving advice on an individual basis to young batsmen, but not in an official capacity with the West Indies team. Many have tried to shake up the system in the West Indies, and many have failed, due to the “close knit environment”, and Lara sees the future of West Indian cricket as “continuing to be sporadic”. The problems between administrations and players did not begin with Brian Lara, and they certainly did not end with him, yet he is a perfect example of a large personality, and wonderful cricketer, who has been forced to distance himself from the game.
There are many issues facing cricket at the moment, exemplified by the situation of KP, yet Lara sees the game as being “pretty much healthy”. He claims the strength of of franchise cricket lies in the lack of cricketing boards, yet it is really up them how the game as a whole develops. The future lies not with the big traditional cricketing nations, but with the minnows, and growing the game worldwide. With constant innovations, such as the IPL, and expanding the game to more countries, Lara was confident that there would a long future for cricket, in whatever form.
Lara claims to be the best in the world, and has the numbers to back it up. What I can’t help thinking is; its such a shame that he has been alienated by fat men in suits. Cricket needs heroes, and we shouldn’t drive away the ones we have.