The most annoying thing about this World Cup is its seemingly endless capacity to produce moments that are memorable for the wrong reasons. Barely a week into the event, the game experienced probably its biggest tragedy in the death of Bob Woolmer. Other heartbreaks have followed, though on an infinitely smaller scale.
The unforeseen early exit of India and Pakistan, which dealt the event a blow it never recovered from, a seemingly endless streak of lopsided matches played before empty stands, the absence of Caribbean verve in the crowd and a sense of emptiness all this has caused the fans who travelled to the Caribbean have hardly got what they wanted.
A reminder of the eternal truth that one does not always get what one wants was Brian Lara’s decision to say goodbye. He was perhaps the oldest cricketer on duty for the Test-playing nations and it was also known that he would not carry on forever, but the end of every beautiful career hurts, especially if it signals the end for an exceptional character.
For all the runs and records he scored and made in a manner that has rarely been matched, there is more to Lara much more. He is just as extraordinary as his unique style of batting is. Coming in as a quiet youngster, making statements with his bat, being accorded the status of prince to becoming the king himself, the player from the Santa Cruz in Trinidad had his road fraught with troughs and turns, but he braved them all.
Wearing pride on the crest of his helmet, Lara has not only invited the best of bowlers to numerous duels, he has also fought battles off the field. Not many players in history have been made captain in three phases of their careers and still shown the heart to question the establishment. Lara has constantly expressed displeasure over the ways of the West Indian board and got away with it because he is Lara.
When the infamous contracts row rocked Caribbean cricket a few years ago, Lara stood by his teammates and confronted the board, even though his own interests were not affected. It meant being out of the side for a short period but he accepted it. And he was always unafraid to criticise selection policies in public, something he has done on a number of times in his third innings as captain.
All these things hardly ever affected his batting. Despite an elbow surgery and having crossed the age when batsmen are supposedly at their peak, his brilliance did not reduce. The number of Test centuries he scored in the last three years of his career is testimony to an epic tale of how one can defy age without looking old in approach.
That approach is actually the hallmark of this man-a man who commands respect not due to his physical appearance but with an innate ability to look awesome in the way he conducts himself, with or without the bat. With him around, one always gets the feeling that there is something about this man that sets him apart. His conquests on and off the field validate this.
After achieving almost everything a batsman could, Lara was bent on bringing West Indian cricket back to where it was when he started out. He was trying to work out a method in the madness even if it meant courting trouble, but Lara was determined. It looked as if he had succeeded in building a solid one-day team until the Super Eights ended the dream.
It was the kind of reality-check one needed while deriving limitless joy from a gloriously long career. The word ‘great’ is not what it used to mean because of overuse, but it is one of the few words that describe Lara. The end was not happy, but that is how his game has been riveting and super-manly, an element of fragility making it unique.
Well played, Brian Lara.