Cricketers seeking to end their careers on a high hope to say the final farewell on a big stage, like the World Cup final. In the current event, Australia’s Glenn McGrath and Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka are the only two veterans whose hope of getting that opportunity is still alive.
I watched the match between the West Indies and South Africa very keenly; after Brian Lara edged Jacques Kallis to his stumps, the grimace on his face said it all. As he walked back, I’m sure his inner voice must have screamed at him to decide his one-day future then and there. That evening, the great left-hander partly drew the curtain on his international career when he announced his exit from one-day cricket.
The importance of one-dayers has grown so much in the past few years that an exit from this version of the game is considered a near-exit from the game. Lara’s absence will have a telling effect on West Indies cricket lovers, and with good reason, for he is synonymous with West Indian cricket.
I recall than in our team meetings in matches against the West Indies, most of the time would be used up discussing Lara and the strategy to get rid of him. On the field, his presence would have a paralysing effect, his dismissal would revive hopes. People speak about Lara being single-minded about his batting, but this is the analysis of skewed, cynical minds about a great player who, unfortunately, didn’t exactly belong to a great team.
While lesser mortals quail at the enormity of the occasion, Lara was always ready to rewrite cricket history, even when his team struggled through the 1990s. West Indies cricket has been marred by selection problems, regionalism and even financial crises. But in the midst of it all, Lara was one constant silver lining in the Caribbean cricket.
Although he has played some great knocks in ODIs, his Test performances are something else. Lara himself has emphasised his love for the longer version of the game and has vowed to continue playing Tests.
I’ve played a lot of cricket against him and, as a bowler, fielder and sometimes as a spectator, have always silently admired his maverick performances.
Though they continue to post wins occasionally, the West Indies have long lost the sense of invincibility which they carried in the 1980s. For a cluster of islands forming the West Indies team, winning was always critical to keep alive the interest in the game.
During my recent trip to the West Indies, I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of top cricket organisers there. I found out that the locals are apprehensive about the raging interference of American sports and, indeed, the American culture. They feel that this trend is one of the primary reasons behind the decline of cricket in the Islands. The lack of success of the West Indian team has also made the youngsters look elsewhere. Basketball has been exponentially growing in influence.
The early exit of the West Indies would certainly not have helped them gain the lost ground, but having the World Cup in the Caribbean islands should spark love for cricket in the youth there. The new stadia with state of art infrastructure and the money coming into West Indies cricket should raise hopes of a rapid development at the grassroots level.
Largely due to their performance over the past one month or so, West Indies has lost Lara much before they would have wanted. But has this World Cup done enough for then to produce another Lara?
Only time can tell.