Kumar Sangakkara on his favourite players

Brian Lara

The spectacular Mr Lara

When he was batting, grace and style were paramount, and anything seemed possible: there was no greater sight in cricket

Kumar Sangakkara

October 30, 2008

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Lara: panache, flamboyance, unpredictability © AFP
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You cannot discuss West Indies batting in the modern era without bringing up the names of Sir Vivian Richards and Brian Lara. I grew up watching Richards murder bowling attacks, chewing his ever-present gum with a swagger and arrogance all his own.

West Indian cricket has been a journey of thrills, fun, amazing peaks and disappointing troughs. For a team shackled with the burden of a heroic past, impeded in its development by wrangling within its cricket board, Brian Charles Lara has stood out and stood tall as one of the greatest batsmen the world has seen.

To an observer who is not West Indian, the Caribbean attitude is a strange one. Where most of us show immense emotion when confronted with challenges, many West Indian players hardly seem to change expression - whether they have won or lost, scored a duck or a hundred. This relaxed, laidback attitude, which has unfairly drawn huge criticism for being unsuitable to the pursuit of relentless success as styled by the Australians, has, however, succeeded in producing some of the most versatile and complete cricketers to have ever played the game. And that is exactly what Brian is: versatile and complete.

Like all great batsmen he has scored runs in every corner of the cricketing world against all the best attacks. What sets Brian apart from the other greats is the manner and attitude in which he wields the willow. There is panache; there is flamboyance, unpredictability, periods of consistent brilliance, and inexplicable runs of bad form. Never one to have been praised as a true team man, he single-handedly shouldered the burden of carrying West Indies' batting through a decade.

I have been unfortunate enough as a Sri Lanka cricketer to have witnessed him at his best at close quarters. The West Indian tour to Sri Lanka in November 2001 was The Brian Lara Show. In just six innings he scored 688 runs at 114.66, with three hundreds and a fifty. He did so at a time when Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas were at their lethal best on Sri Lankan pitches that had bite, bounce, turn and reverse swing. Yet West Indies still lost 0-3.

Brian's technique and style are not orthodox. Though he starts with a beautifully balanced stance, he progresses into a flamboyant and outrageously high back-lift that would be a coaching book no-no. His initial movement seems to be a spilt step-jump that flings his body into the position required to play his shots. Although unorthodox, these two movements, coupled with a fantastic eye and even better hands, allow him to generate incredible bat speed and power at the moment of impact. His sometimes extravagant follow-through is the result of this bat speed. Many are the times when, though his feet are nowhere near the required position they should be in to play a shot, the correctness of his balance and head position frees his hands and allows them to catch up with the ball at the exact right moment.

He is also the most destructive player of spin I have seen. To my mind he is the only batsman to have effectively tamed the threat of Murali and dominated him and Shane Warne. Brian has all the cliché attributes of a great player of spin: a good eye, quick feet, the ability to read from the hand, and an attacking attitude, combined with the most solid of forward defences. But to my mind what truly sets him apart and makes him such a fine player of spin, better than the rest, is that he is not content to react to the bowler. He keeps challenging himself in the middle of an innings to exploit the one area of the field the bowler wants him to exploit. I have seen Murali turn the ball square across him, with no midwicket, enticing him to play against the turn, and I have seen Brian keep driving, flicking and sweeping into that one vacant spot. Doing it once or twice is comprehensible, but to watch him do it for an entire session, it made you raise your eyebrows in amazement and wonder.

His nemesis in international cricket for a long time was Glenn McGrath, whose success against Brian was based on his ability to exploit the angle of bowling around the wicket. When Glenn came around the wicket to Brian it was almost a given that he would edge to slip. This was a matter of hot debate in our dressing room: many are the times we have tried to replicate the strategy, many are the times I have watched other teams attempt to do so, both with no great continued success.

So the question remains: was it really the one technical chink in Brian's armour or was it McGrath's special ability? Murali, wanting an answer, in his own direct and engagingly blunt fashion asked Brian himself when we were having dinner together at Mahaweli Reach in Kandy once. "Brian," Murali said, "why are you getting out all the time to McGrath?" Brian's answer was: "Murali, I have to get out somehow, and if I get out to McGrath, so what, it does not bother me." He simply did not believe there was a problem.

This was a personality trait that helped make Brian so successful. The situation of a match did not seem to bother him - the pressure, the expectations, his form; it just didn¹t seem to prey on his mind. Brian played as if for the moment. Each ball a fresh start, each stroke unhindered by the immediate past. He always believed that his ability would triumph. It is a degree of self-awareness and self-confidence that is extremely hard to achieve.

 
 
The situation of a match did not seem to bother him - the pressure, the expectations, his form; it just didn¹t seem to prey on his mind. Brian played as if for the moment. Each ball a fresh start, each stroke unhindered by the immediate past
 

Maybe it was this, too, that undermined his effectiveness as a leader and allowed the perception to develop that he was not always a total team man. I cannot be sure this was the case, not having shared a dressing room with him. I question whether being so much better than the rest made it hard for him to relate properly to the lesser players in the team. Although he was certainly an astute and intelligent captain, he struggled to get full team cooperation and respect. It is hard to drag a team along that does not fully believe in you.

One question mark I have in my mind about Brian is: why the bad periods? He was brilliant, but he could also be inconsistent. On song, unstoppable; but there were times when he struggled badly. Technically he didn't change all that much through his career. It could just be that he couldn't synchronise his back-lift and exaggerated trigger movement. He needed rhythm as a batsman.

If you assess his achievements, he undisputedly ranks at the very top - 501 in first-class cricket for Warwickshire, 375 not out and then 400 not out in Test cricket; the highest run-scorer in world cricket for years until Tendulkar pipped him recently. That he achieved most of these feats when the opposition was swarming all over his team is remarkable.

However, perhaps the true value of Brian was his entertainment power. Whatever he did on the field he did with style and grace. He was not just a cricketer, he was a performer. There have been many great players, but few with the same ability to thrill a crowd. With Brian batting, the record books were constantly threatened. Every game had the potential to produce something amazing. When he was batting well, there was no greater sight in world cricket.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by rambarat on (October 31, 2008, 23:47 GMT)

Thank you Sangakkara for acknowledging a true genius. I am saddened by the absurd comparison with Tendulkar. Brian has a gift to the cricketing world. I have seen many of the greats and Brian is truly a once in a lifetime genius.

Posted by dman153 on (October 31, 2008, 23:45 GMT)

After all the years of watching Brian Lara one thing has always stood out about him.No matter his score,his side's score or the situation of the game Brian Lara always walked when he was out or when he thought he was out.I have actually witnessed a lot of the modern day greats eg(Sachin Tendulkar,Ricky Ponting) standing their ground when they were out,with the third umpire replays clearly showing they were out. I remember back in 1991 playing for Trinidad & Tobago against the touring Australian side,Brian was on 91 when the Austrialia wicket keeper picked his bails and Brian walked even though the umpire said he was not out.Lara continued to to show his character up until his retirement when on his last tour of Australia he was given out at least five times when replays showed otherwise. Apart from his batting genius Lara should also be remembered for his sportsmanlike conduct!

Posted by lobster_man on (October 31, 2008, 15:53 GMT)

A player's role is to win matches for his team. You need to compare the matches Tendulkar won for India with the ones Lara won for WI. There is no comparison: it's Lara and Tendulkar's record when it comes to winning is miserable.

Posted by roman_trini on (October 31, 2008, 14:48 GMT)

Lara did not make 375 NOT OUT. Unfortunately he was made to continue batting, as tired as he was, until he edged a ball from Caddick. Still bugs me that he was not allowed to finish 'not out' in that innings.

Posted by prashant1 on (October 31, 2008, 9:09 GMT)

Best batsman of the generation :Sachin Tendulkar. No doubt about that whatsoever. Very entertaining (in patches): Lara. Further ,some ppl in here seem to be incorrectly using databases such as statsguru.As an eg: If tendulkar scores a hundred against an australian attack with mcgrath in it,but then gets dismissed by some other bowler...the runs against mcgrath aren't counted.

Posted by Theena on (October 31, 2008, 8:02 GMT)

(Contd)

The facts are plain: he scored 600 odd runs in that series, almost 200 more than the second best batsmen in that series (Hashan Thilakaratne), dominated Murali and Vaas (who was the highest wicket taker in the series), and yet, inexcusably, West Indies were whitewashed. As a Sri Lankan supporter (and a fan of Hashan's batting), I was thrilled at the results; but the longer the series went, the more I wished for some form of justice for Lara.

Posted by Theena on (October 31, 2008, 8:02 GMT)

I count myself privileged to have lived in the era of five cricketing geniuses, three of whom are bowlers and two batsmen. Lara, though, was unlike any other. Everything about him - from his coming to the middle, bat in hand, to the stance, to that other-worldly backlift, and that stunning cover drive - had the touch of the divine. And this is coming from a godless child.

That 2001 series you speak of was an exhibition in mind-blowing batsmanship. When Lara walked in, inevitably when the openers had fallen early to Vaas, you got the feeling that you were watching someone whose skills, mental fortitude and self-belief was from a different planet - such was the gulf that he established between himself and his team-mates, such was the gulf that he established between himself and members of the opposition who had similar job descriptions as his.

(Contd)

Posted by Baton100 on (October 31, 2008, 6:30 GMT)

I think it's not fair for the article to compare people...but since lot of them curious, I think statistics are the benchmark to differntiate the two. How many times Brian had to fight out against the best bowling unit in the world.,Australians(including McGrath). & why India couldn't win a world cup after coming so close...because their best batsmen, Tendulkar couldn't deliver when it needed..how many times Australians got out him on big occasions consistantly, Lara never had a weakness, in-spite some bad patches. I don't think it's hard thing for him to score 15,000 ODI runs if he got chance to open the innings. Someone said Lara never faced good pace attack...When his final tour to Pakistan, he had never scored a century in Pakistan before, he did it in his last tour against bowlers like Umar Gul, Asif, Akthar & co. do you think that's not a good attack? In fact his first major impact came against Pakistan in '92 World Cup when he & Haynes put together 200+ record partnership.

Posted by ZA77 on (October 31, 2008, 4:13 GMT)

At home, Lara runs per inning against England is 71.46 with 3 centuries and 5 half centuries with two highest scores 400 and 375 runs which is even more than Bradman's runs per inning at home versus England that is 71.33 with highest scores 270 and 234. Imagine if he had face England at home in 1930s and 40s what he could do with them in timeless test matches on matt over concrete pitches. He has the greatest tendency to score big individual innings. Presence of professional bowlers as more than 50 bowlers took 100 or more than 100 wickets in which 25-30 bowlers took more than 200 wickets in their test career that he had ever faced in test cricket in which eleven are related to 300 club and again seven to 400 and four to 500 club. For top ten leading wikcet takers, eight of them are related to his era. Lara played on 45-50 different pitches in his whole career. Bradman played on ten pitches with six bowlers took more than 100 wkt. I think Lara is the best in test history including all.

Posted by melayaraja on (October 31, 2008, 2:42 GMT)

For all those people comparing Lara and Sachin against Mcgrath: (Note: Stats was pulled out using cricinfo's statsguru)

ODI's: Sachin Vs Aus team with Mcgrath : avg of 36.00 avg with 2 centuries in 23 matches Lara vs Aus team with Mcgrath: avg of 44.12 with 2 centuries in 28 matches

Tests: Sachin vs McGrath: 9-Matches 662(Runs) 126(HS) 36.77(avg) 2(100's) Lara Vs Mcgrath: 24-Matches 2041-Runs 226(highest score) 46.38 (avg) 6 (100's)

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Kumar SangakkaraClose
Kumar Sangakkara One of the pillars of the Sri Lankan team, Kumar Sangakkara is among the most influential cricketers in world cricket. An attractive, free-stroking left-hand batsman, Sangakkara also possesses the temperament to compile big scores (and those have been coming ever more frequently since he gave up wicketkeeping to focus on batting). Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene hold the world record for the highest wicket partnership, 624 for the third, against South Africa at Colombo, of which his share was 287. Intelligent and articulate, he is a sharp-eyed strategist, and a sharper-tongued sledger.
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