print icon

Lara's theme

In this prescient article from Wisden Cricket Monthly in January 1994, Stephen Thorpe profiled the young West Indian batting star, Brian Lara

Stephen Thorpe
In this prescient article from Wisden Cricket Monthly in January 1994, Stephen Thorpe profiled the young West Indian batting star, Brian Lara

The final shot - Lara pulls Chris Lewis through midwicket to reach the world record, in Antigua in 1994 © Getty Images
Whatever else transpires during the upcoming three-month sojourn in the Caribbean, one feature is more or less guaranteed, and it will not bring joy to the hearts of the English bowlers. The sublime skills of Trinidadian Brian Lara, already hailed as a batting genius at the tender age of 24, will undoubtedly adorn what promises to be an enthralling series.
The arrival of the prodigal son may have been tardy, but the 5 ft 5 ins left-hander is now firmly established on the world stage, an icon to all those who purr at the aesthetics of batsmanship. The West Indies selectors, wavering despite an increasingly fragile middle order, delayed his consolidation at Test level for what seemed an interminable age to most Caribbean cognoscenti.
In the 1991 domestic season, for instance, he amassed 627 runs in five matches, including six consecutive fifties, a tournament record which Desmond Haynes actually surpassed only a week later. During the Jamaica match, on an unpredictable surface at Sabina Park, he made 122 and 87, eliciting a cogent remark from radio commentator Michael Holding: "I'd pick Lara first for the Test team, then look for 10 others."
Even then his advance had been remarkable, graduating from Fatima College and the Queen's Park Club to the Trinidad side and leading West Indies' youth team to the inaugural World Cup in Australia all in the same year, 1988. His leadership qualities, despite a schoolboyish demeanour, were obvious from the outset, and earned him the captaincy of West Indies B to Zimbabwe, then, in March 1989, the West Indies Under-23 XI against the Indians, a match which Vivian Richards made a special effort to watch.
It probably marked the young pretender's coming of age in the highest company, and his 182, quick-footed and full of supreme cover-driving and controlled sweeps, admittedly on an extremely flat pitch at Warner Park, St Kitts, had another silver lining - a collection from a sparse gathering an unusual Kittitian tradition. A month later, and the penny, it seemed, had finally dropped - yet, incredibly, having been named in the senior squad for the third Test against India, he was made 12th man and simultaneously suffered the death of his father, Bunty.
The double setback prefaced 134 off England at Guaracara Park, Trinidad, before he finally gained Test recognition at Lahore in Dec 1990, where a debut knock of 44 against Wasim, Waqar and Imran "made it feel like a century". It was a tough baptism, and as Lara said, "If I could come through that I could survive anything." He has, to some tune, and the experience so stiffened his resolve that he now stands on the threshold of becoming one of the game's greatest batsmen - of this or any other era.
A presumptuous notion, you might think, for a veteran of just 17 Test innings at 47.76, but a maiden century at Sydney in 1992-93, transformed into a mammoth 277, a monument indeed to craft and concentration, simply confirmed the image. That graceful tour de force was the fourth-highest by any West Indian, and the biggest in Tests between the two countries. One seasoned observer considered it the best innings played Down Under in a decade or more, while team manager Rohan Kanhai classed it one of the greatest knocks he had ever seen: "Back foot, front foot, timing, placement, against spin and pace alike, he was absolutely magnificent." Some tribute that from a man who's done a bit himself. Richie Richardson also made a hundred but hardly remembered it, so mesmerised was the captain by his chargeling's performance.
Initially, Lara was spared the so-called damaging effects of one-day cricket, but he blossomed as an opener in the World Cup, benefiting from attacking fields and the encouragement of Desmond Haynes. Hundreds plundered off South Africa, Australia and Pakistan in the shortened game are testimony to an adaptive talent, and he effectively secured the Sharjah Trophy last November with a blistering 153 off 143 balls against Pakistan. Lara played 24 one-dayers, in fact, before his second Test appearance, in the historic match against South Africa at Bridgetown early in 1992.
Certainly, he has become an epic performer almost overnight, arguably the first world-class batsman his country has ever produced, and a cult figure bestowed with honorary medals. Not least he's a front-line member of the jeunesse dorée in Port-of-Spain, where partying is a way of life. Trinidad boasts the most stunningly attractive women in the Caribbean, and they dress to kill. Most would, literally, for the attention of their biggest sporting hero. "Laramania" they call it, with his female following making Imran Khan seem like a refugee from a Trappist order.
Generally, the "Prince", as Michael Whitney dubbed him, keeps a level head, but the tension has sometimes shown. He was the youngest-ever Trinidad captain in 1990, but lost it soon afterwards and received a £100 fine after an altercation with his successor, Gus Logie. Later, an incident with a barfly, in tandem with the Aston Villa footballer Dwight Yorke, resulted in a severe police reprimand.
All this is a far cry from an upbringing as one of 11 children in the village of Santa Cruz, where an older sister, Agnes, took him to coaching sessions at the Harvard club from the age of six. Joey Carew then continued his cricket education at Fatima, and foster-fathered him while Lara took a job in the sales department of Angostura Bitters.
He's a quick learner, listens readily to advice and has a solid mental approach. Exceptional footwork and steely wrists underpin his technical strengths and, while lofted shots are anathema, the flaws are constantly reassessed. Sir Garfield Sobers highlighted a vulnerability outside off stump, because the top hand was positioned too far in front on the grip, a problem now all but remedied, and he also developed a tendency to play too far outside his off stump. Pakistan's Asif Mujtaba, of all people, actually bowled him for 95 off an out-stretched front leg playing no shot in the first Test last year, much to the chagrin of an adoring home crowd.
Minor aberrations, though, on an otherwise vivid canvas which has yet to reach its full glory. Strangely, names sometimes evoke the man, and Lara's does just that: ebony-smooth with a dismissive brevity, rolling off the tongue like runs off his bat. England will surely come to recognise its significance.
Three months after this article was published, Lara scored a then-Test record 375 against England in the fifth Test at Antigua, and followed that up with an unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham at Edgbaston.