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April 19, 2007
After days of scathing criticism and ceaseless innuendo, the penny finally dropped. "I gave extensive consideration to this," said Brian Lara. "I want everybody to know that on Saturday I'll be playing my last international match. I've already spoken to the board and the players about this." It was a fairly routine press conference at the end of a insignificant game, but the answer to the last question caused even the most tired journalist to look up from his notepad.
And with that, it was over. He stopped to sign a few autographs - jaded hacks too aren't immune from the spell cast by his batting - and then walked away through the side door. Though there will be nothing at stake on Saturday when two frankly mediocre teams play for nothing more than pride, the stands could be packed as fans flock in to pay their own tributes to the prince among modern-day batsmen.
Ever since West Indies were ruled out of semi-final contention earlier in the week, speculation has been rife that Lara wouldn't be part of the Test squad to England. For a man who has carried the team piggyback for so much of his career, it would have been an unkind cut, one that he was clearly in no mood to take.
When asked to rake over the pieces of yet another ill-fated World Cup campaign, Lara refused to dwell on "spilt milk". "We've got to move on and focus on the future," he said.
His one-day career will end at 299 games, and he won't now add to the 131 Tests and 11,953 runs he scored in Test cricket. "I was very confident that I'd play my 300th game at the World Cup," he said. "It wasn't to be. So be it."
Though he will be remembered for two glorious centuries against South Africa (1996 and 2003), Lara has little else to cherish as far as the World Cup is concerned. Winning the ICC Champions Trophy in the gloom at The Oval in 2004 was a highlight, and he'll hope for a reprise against the English team that was beaten that day.
"West Indies cricket is something I hold dearly to my own heart," he said when asked what his feelings would be as he donned the maroon colours for the last time. "I've had a very good run, 299 one-day matches and 130-odd Tests under my belt. That's testimony to the fact that I've been out there toiling for West Indies cricket. I've enjoyed every single day."
He leaves behind quite a legacy as a batsman. "I've come out there and tried to entertain," he said, when asked how he'd like to be remembered. "You have to remember that people pay to come through the turnstiles.
"Another thing that I'm proud of is that I've been knocked down so many times, both as a player and a person, and come back. I need to thank my parents for that, for being able to go out there in the face of adversity and perform. It's a family trait."
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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