Barath must listen and learn July 2, 2007

Once in a lifetime

Fazeer Mohammed

Adrian Barath must make most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity © Trinidad & Tobago Express
It's like an impossible dream come true, but unless Adrian Barath is watching, listening and learning from all that is going on around him during a hectic few days in London, he may just become another one of those many talented but inconsistent performers in this long, nightmarish period in West Indies cricket.

The 17-year old must be the envy of millions right now. A special guest of batting legend Brian Lara, he is experiencing the life of the sporting superstar in one of the most fashionable and historic cities in the world. From the luxury hotels to the VIP treatment every step of the way to the lavish receptions in exclusive company, it surely seems too good to be true for the Presentation College schoolboy who still has another three seasons to go at under-19 level.

For all the disappointment of seeing West Indies capitulate once again on Sunday, the no-contest out in the middle in the first ODI against England may have actually been a distraction from rubbing shoulders with many of the former and contemporary greats of the game in one of the executive boxes at Lord's. Coming a day after he sampled the Centre Court atmosphere from the extremely privileged position of the Royal Box while watching defending Wimbledon women's singles champion Amelie Mauresmo in action, Barath already has enough experiences to fill several pages in a "What I did on vacation" essay.

But for a young cricket fanatic who aspires to join the ranks of the immortal heroes of the West Indian game, the best of it all comes tonight when he sits alongside his hero in exalted company at a glittering gala function in the Lord's Long Room honouring Lara's record-breaking contribution to the game.

You can only imagine what it must be like for him. Unless he is super cool (that title already belongs to Chris Gayle, so it would have to be something else) or supremely confident in his own ability to blaze a trail of glory in time, it can almost be intimidating to indulge in old talk with the likes of Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar or observe from close quarters as the Australian champion legspinner and Indian batting maestro laugh and joke in the midst of an unending succession of anecdotes recalling on-field duels and off-field antics with Lara.

But for all of the gilt-edged opportunities for autographs and photographs that will become cherished mementoes or expensive memorabilia in years to come, the real value of this star-studded evening will come from absorbing all that these outstanding performers have to say about the game. Much of it will seem like foolishness and general old talk.

However, in between, he should be able to get a feel of the personalities behind the imposing auras and staggering achievements, an understanding of the degree of self-belief and the burning desire to excel that have propelled these players to heights that everyone else can only aspire to.

Sometimes, all it takes are a few words in a receptive ear to make all the difference.
Sometimes, all it takes are a few words in a receptive ear to make all the difference. In an era when the evidence is there in black and white in a succession of scorebooks that listening and learning are not very high on the list of priorities among current Caribbean cricketers, Barath would have committed that same cardinal error if enlightenment from the function came only in an understanding of the irrelevant, nonsensical intricacies of hoity-toity table manners.

These are the moments that can change a young man's life, in either direction. Already hailed in some quarters of a local media desperate to anoint a successor to Lara as our next great batting gift to the world, Barath has a very long way to go to even begin to approach the dizzyingly high standards set by the players he admires most. But, significantly, he has the considerable benefit of youth on his side, so the challenge for him is to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as part of the greater goal of fulfilling long-term objectives and not joining the majority of the mindless crowd who continue to live fast and loose, only to recognise the folly of their ways when it is too late.

Not everyone gets the chance to be a VIP guest of Lara or Dwight Yorke or Ato Boldon or Stephen Ames. But wise words and sincere counsel are also available at the more modest and anonymous levels of the home environment. Although the perspective of having excelled at the highest level is an invaluable one, there are certain fundamental truths that have never changed, whether batting in the nets at Presentation College or in front of a full house of 90,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

In a culture that almost automatically ranks anything external as better than the homegrown variety, well-meaning advice is often dismissed on the basis of the adviser not having the track record of achievement to suggest that any credibility should be attached to what he or she is saying. Yet when you read many of the stories of the great achievers in all sports, there is almost always reference made to the invaluable contribution of some ordinary but well-respected person - parent, coach or mentor - on the road to greatness.

Very few ever achieve such greatness, but once we are prepared to listen and learn, we won't have to rely on the generosity of a sporting superstar to inspire us to previously unattainable heights of excellence.