The legend bids adieu to international cricket April 19, 2007

Lara looks to the future



Parting words: 'Our cricket needs a strong foundation. We have to dig deep' - Lara © Getty Images

When Ramnaresh Sarwan, man of the match against Bangladesh after a superb unbeaten 91, talked to the media after the game, he had little idea that his captain was poised to drop a bombshell that would render everything else - Jacob Oram's heel and Duncan Fletcher's resignation, to name just two significant stories of the day - redundant. Though he laughed at the idea that he was captain-in-waiting, Sarwan was candid when asked if he'd want Brian Lara in the squad that leaves for England in early May.

"Of course," he said. "With his experience, the way he plays and what he brings to the team, you'd want him there." And asked what he'd learnt from sharing the same dressing room, Sarwan spoke of Lara's mental strength and how he'd managed to rebound from the hard times despite his every move being so closely scrutinised. In his view, much of the criticism of Lara was unfair, though he accepted that it came with the job. "People point fingers at the leader. That happens in every sport."

We recently had the case of a vice-captain, Pakistan's Younis Khan, refusing to take up the reins, but that path of least resistance won't be the one that Sarwan takes. "I've said for a while now that I'm willing to take up the challenge," he said. "A few things would have to change though."

A few minutes later, it was Lara in front of the cameras and microphones, and he appeared to give the anointed one his seal of approval. "I think he's shown maturity," he said, when asked about Sarwan. "He's a very good batsman. We dropped him down to No.5 because he's a very good finisher. If that decision had been taken earlier, it might have borne fruit."

Lara has been roundly criticised during this World Cup campaign, with legends of the past dismissive of both the team's performances and preparation. According to him, a press conference wasn't the right forum to debate whatever had gone wrong behind the scenes, though he did say that the new captain would need "whole-hearted support from the board and the selectors."

It was as good as saying that the support cast had failed him, and was in keeping with what he had hinted at during an interview with Cricinfo Magazine last September. When asked about indiscipline - the allegations have flown thick and fast during this competition - he had said: "There are different types of indiscipline. Are you talking about the controversial kind?

"It can stem not just from the players, it can stem from deep-rooted problems in the administration. I don't think you'd see an indisciplined team if you have a disciplined board. If you have a disciplined board, they would know exactly what they want from their players. You need to see the whole spiral, where it starts from."

To blame Lara and the players alone for this World Cup debacle is a cop-out, and it ignores huge faults beneath the surface. "I've been part of five World Cups and we reached the semis only in 1996," said Lara. "Here, we were beaten by better teams."

The pressure sometimes gets the better of me but it's a lovely feeling to have the chips down, back against the wall, and come up with something special. The thousands that pour through the turnstiles on Saturday morning will hope for one last glimpse of such genius. For all his flaws as an individual - and who doesn't have them? - Brian Lara the batsman was a sight to behold. Two days from now, the crazy diamond will shine one last time.

When asked if he saw a way out of the morass of mediocrity, he was only cautiously optimistic, saying that it might take five or 10 years for the West Indies to regain respectability. "The team is good enough, the talent is there," he said. "But in international sport, success stems from a lot more than the 11 players on the field.

"Our cricket needs a strong foundation. We have to dig deep. We've got some guys who are good thinkers on the game on the cricket committee. We need to find the right plan. It's not going to be easy and we can't look for too much."

Lara is prepared to be part of that future, turbulent though it may be. "It's not time for me to go into hibernation," he said. "I've played and I've been a student of the game. I know the history of West Indies cricket and I know what it means to the people. There are also a lot of people in other countries that we could learn from."

Saturday will be special, and such has been Lara's mental strength down the years that you can picture him conjuring up an innings to remember. "We've still got a job to do on Saturday," he said after Bangladesh had subsided to a 99-run defeat. "It's nice to get back on the winning trail. We've not won a game since Jamaica. And though it's come a couple of matches too late, we still have a World Cup to finish.

"The fans are still coming out to watch us. You wonder if the support is going to be there. It was a tremendous turnout to watch a team that had no chance of reaching the semi-finals."

Quite a few of them would have come to see him grace the venue where he enjoyed his finest hour. The world-record scores of 375 and 400 will catch the statistician's eye, and the purist might swear by his 277 at Sydney (1993), but it's highly unlikely that any of us will see an innings to match the 153 not out that inspired a one-wicket win against the best team in the world.

When asked about it in Malaysia, he had said: "The pressure sometimes gets the better of me but it's a lovely feeling to have the chips down, back against the wall, and come up with something special."

The thousands that pour through the turnstiles on Saturday morning will hope for one last glimpse of such genius. For all his flaws as an individual - and who doesn't have them? - Brian Lara the batsman was a sight to behold. Two days from now, the crazy diamond will shine one last time.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo

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