The boy who impressed Lara at 11
The first time the cricket world heard of Adrian Barath was when Brian Lara took the 17-year old to England to watch a few matches between England and West Indies, and to be his guest at a function at Lord's in 2007. The kid had to have some talent to receive a tremendous opportunity at such a young age.
Barath hasn't set the Under-19 World Cup alight as yet. He didn't play West Indies' first warm-up match against Sri Lanka and didn't make much in the second against Australia. His coach, Larry Gomes, said that he was under the weather and not at 100%. Barath opened in West Indies' tournament opener against South Africa, and though he made only 19 in a partnership of 65, his compact style and urgent running between the wickets caught the eye. Barath is short, wears braces, and diminutive stature was exaggerated when he stood next to his opening partner, the towering Kieran Powell. Two of Barath's shots stood out - a straight drive for four past the bowler, and another between extra cover and mid-off. Barath is only 17 and is punching two years above his weight, which he's been used to doing since he began playing cricket.
His talent was spotted by his father at the age of ten, during a casual game of soft-ball cricket in the backyard. "My dad saw me playing straight which is unusual," Barath told Cricinfo. "Normally players begin by hitting across the line but I was playing straight without anyone teaching me. Maybe it was because of television. I used to watch a lot and try and emulate what I saw."
His father began taking him for net practice and Barath soon began to climb the rungs through the age-group levels in Trinidad. He was playing in the Trinidad U-13 team in 2001 at the age of 11 and led the side in 2002. He broke into the U-15 side in that same year at 13 and played for three seasons.
As batsmen grow older they may forget their numbers but when they're taking the initial steps in their career, they remember each detail. Barath reeled off the statistics of his successful U-15 one-day tournament in 2005 with little effort: 429 runs in five innings at an average of 143, scoring two hundreds and two half-centuries.
"Because of that performance, I got selected to play in the regional U-19 team [when he was 15 years old]," Barath said. "That same year they selected the World Cup squad for the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka [in 2006]. I didn't make the team but I was close. Sharmarh Brooks [the present captain of West Indies U-19s] was on that team."
That exclusion was certainly a disappointment but more opportunities were around the corner for Barath. He was picked in the Trinidad and Tobago's senior squad in 2007, although he didn't get to play a game early on. "It was the cricket board's initiative to include me. They thought it would be good for me to be around players like [Brian] Lara, [Daren] Ganga, [Dwayne] Bravo, [Denesh] Ramdin and [Mervyn] Dillon."
|When I was 11 [in 2001], Lara had broken his hand in Sri Lanka [in a collision with Marvan Atapattu] and so he was watching a first-class game at the Queen's Park Oval. My dad was bowling to me in the nets and Lara saw me batting. He's been with me right through|
All that observing must have done Barath some good for when he made his first-class debut in January 2007, scoring 73 against Guyana, who had Reon King and Mahendra Nagamootoo. Two centuries in successive matches against Leewards and Windwards Islands soon followed.
His trip to England with Lara ranks among his most memorable experiences. How did a teenage boy make such an impact on Lara?
"This is a funny story," Barath said. "When I was 11 [in 2001], Lara had broken his hand in Sri Lanka [in a collision with Marvan Atapattu] and so he was watching a first-class game at the Queen's Park Oval. My dad was bowling to me in the nets and Lara saw me batting. He's been with me right through."
Barath is aware that recognition at such an early age comes along with the weight of expectation. "People will be expecting a lot but that's part of cricket and of life as a sportsman. You have to accept it and use it as a positive."
England and the experience of going to Lord's, Lara felt, would give Barath a feel of how international players approached the game and prepare him for cricket overseas. "The trip for me was unbelievable," Barath said. "I roomed with Brian and he shared his opinions. He knew I would be coming to this World Cup."
Barath has at least two more opportunities to show the world his talents in Kuala Lumpur - against Papua New Guinea and India - and West Indies need to win both if they are to make the Super League. And although a failure will be a tremendous personal disappointment - for this is the biggest stage Barath has played on so far - he has many more opportunities in the years ahead of him.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo