Careful, master Brian
So which big game were you following yesterday?
Was it at Anfield, where Manchester United maintained their excellent recent record against Liverpool with a determined 1-0 victory? Could it have been the other English Premier League football super clash at Emirates Stadium, in which Arsenal retained top position after edging Chelsea by a similar scoreline? Or maybe you were one of the early risers who saw European champions AC Milan get the better of South American kings Boca Juniors 4-2 in the Club World Club final in Yokohama?
Despite fears of what could happen to our team down in South Africa, many would still have been hoping for the best in West Indies' Twenty20 clash with the hosts in Port Elizabeth. But South Africa 58 for 8 a scoreline accompanied by uprooted stumps, hostile bowling, brilliant fielding and superb catching? It must be a dream. Nope, it's Twenty20, or more precisely because of the rain, Thirteen13.
Let's wait until the real thing begins on Boxing Day at the same venue to properly measure this effort, especially after Dale Steyn's destructive response to Jerome Taylor's wicket-feast. Then again, given what we've endured from our Caribbean cricketers for the last 12 years, a win is a win, especially against the Proteas.
But what about that showpiece event in Panchkula?
Panch-where you say? You know, the district on the outskirts of Chandigarh where the previously obscure Tau Devi Lal Cricket Stadium was refurbished to host the inaugural event of the breakaway Indian Cricket League, a Twenty20 tournament that reached its climax after two weeks of competition with the Chennai Superstars defeating the Chandigarh Lions by 12 runs in yesterday's floodlit final.
The intention here is not to make fun of an exercise that may yet prove as groundbreaking as Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket 30 years ago (remember how the likes of Viv Richards and Michael Holding were relegated to venues ranging from an Aussie Rules football ground in Melbourne to the infield of a greyhound racecourse in Perth in WSC's inaugural season?). However, in securing the services of arguably the biggest name in the game, even after his retirement from official international cricket, Kapil Dev and company must have been more than a little disappointed that Brian Lara and his Mumbai Champs were never really in the reckoning to make it to the big showdown.
The fact is that the Champs were poor throughout, finishing dead last in the six-team competition with just one win from six matches - including a playoff to avoid the cellar spot - while their captain's pitiful tally of 31 runs would have been a massive letdown for all concerned, although it should be noted that Lara himself has never been enthusiastic about this very popular and marketable form of the game.
Cash constraints should not be a concern for the batting maestro in the immediate future, even as the 38-year-old approaches the end of a record-breaking career. But the inescapable fact is that he has emerged with little credit from what would nevertheless have been a significantly rewarding exercise - financially - for him. Indeed, with reports suggesting that he was signed on at a fee of US$1 million, he probably claims another record as the most expensive run-maker in world cricket with each of his 31 runs costing over TT$200,000!
Before the Laramaniacs burst a blood vessel (jeezanages man, you all can't take a joke?), it's obvious that the champion left-hander's value to the new tournament is much more than runs and the ability to lead his new team into a position to challenge for the title.
In fact, we can expect Kapil and any other persons of influence to be working extremely hard to ensure that the Trinidadian stays committed to the ICL, especially as there were rumours that he was on the point of pulling out before a ball was bowled, apparently due to the absence of some of the other headline names who it was expected would also be involved in the new competition. No-one should begrudge Lara fully capitalising on his still considerable market value for as long as he can before turning his attention to other pursuits, whether cricket-related or otherwise. However, he should be conscious of what sort of legacy he wants to leave behind after a long and generally distinguished playing career.
We can argue about his contribution as a captain and team player until there's no more sorrel in the market, but no sensible observer of the game can seriously challenge his position of pre-eminence - both in terms of quantity and style-among batsmen of the modern era. In that context, to see images of the master batsman being stumped by a mile, or bowled aiming an agricultural heave, or walking away after a first-ball duck, conjures images of a great boxing champion who just didn't know when to quit.
Given that he had hoped to play Test cricket at least until his 40th birthday, his inconsequential contributions in Panchkula must be related more to an issue of lack of motivation than dwindling ability. In the event that it really is the former rather than the latter, Lara would be better advised to pack it in before reducing himself to a carnival sideshow. Either that, or work as hard as he used to when he really wanted to turn it on. A batsman of his greatness should not subject us to this, even in the midst of so many other distractions.