There is certainly more to the World Cup than mysterious deaths, though all that is hardly meeting the eye these days. With the Bob Woolmer saga being on the forefront for very valid reasons, the home team’s safe passage to the Super Eight got overshadowed as did the promise of what it could do in the next few weeks.
Orchestrating a team packed with batsmen, a number of whom offer bowling options too, Brian Lara is in charge of a bunch of dark horses who are showing consistency after years and enough depth to go with that.
The skipper’s role has changed as a batsman and he is happy about it.
Having taken the world by storm as an aggressive left-hander who was promoted to the top of the order in one-day cricket, Lara has mellowed beyond imagination with age and is playing the role of the calm one in a pack that hates order and often gets into trouble because of that.
The famous backlift is intact but the bat does not come down in that exhilarating arc with the sole intention to dominate anymore. This was evident against Zimbabwe a day after Woolmer's death, when the master turned labourer on course of a dogged innings that shepherded his team to the next stage. He was not going after the attack, which lacked bite anyway, showing that discretion is as important as valour even in the days of power plays.
“We are in a situation where we need somebody in the middle-order,” was how he explained his position in the team. “Shivnarine Chanderpaul is opening and has done well in the last 15-16 months. He used to bat at No. 5 or 6, so because of that we need somebody experienced like Brian Lara in that position.”
He added that this decision did not come in the natural course of things and was made after considering the team's requirements. “I would like to bat up the order in one-day games, that's where most of my runs have come from. But being the senior most player, you have to reassess your role at times and decide accordingly.”
The 37-year-old has eschewed his natural tendency to go for shots in this tournament so far and nudged around each time he has come out to bat. “Not that I have changed the style of my batting. It's just that the situations I came in didn't demand anything silly. Batting is a lot about commonsense and runs can be scored without taking risks.”
A batsman who has thrilled thousands for well over a decade with his breathtaking style of stroke making, Lara has come a full circle — instead of simply entertaining, he is inspiring others. That is why someone like Marlon Samuels is coming ahead of his captain, who is clearly showing a liking for this backstage role these days.
“It's been satisfying to see him get runs. He did that against India and Pakistan in Asia before the World Cup. But I want someone in the top four to get a big one, which has not happened in this tournament. One of them has to bat through, and that is something we have to work on."
Batsman above excellence, captain of what seemed like a sinking ship about a year ago and a living example who motivates, Lara has been an extraordinary story even in the rich collection of fables that Caribbean cricket is. Not only has he got better with time but the fact that he has helped others get better, places him in a different league.