Three years ago, I was contacted by James Fuller, who identified himself as an English journalist currently living in Trinidad and working on a biography of Brian Lara. He wanted contact information for people he wished to interview. I did what I could, and that was that.
So when I saw a press notice that the book had been published by Macmillan Caribbean as part of a series that has featured Learie Constantine, Bob Marley, Che Guevara, and Jimmy Cliff, I was curious.
I wondered what Fuller would bring to the Brian Lara table. The last Lara book I had read had been a useful compilation of press reports but hardly more.
This one, Brian Lara, An unauthorised biography, is a thoughtful rendition of the world record-holder's career.
Fuller started off as an auditor and soon turned his hand to journalism. During the five years he was located in Trinidad, he traipsed around the islands, ferreting out anyone who could add anything to what was already recorded. It is these anecdotes, related by a diverse set of informants, that add texture to a competent record of the career. Fuller got neighbours, coaches, schoolmates, teachers - people from Lara's childhood - to talk about the nature of the boy; trying to capture the essence of a creature whose character had been subjected to constant dissection. He also talked to team-mates, both in England and the Caribbean, and he doesn't just present facts, he tries to analyse connections as well.
The book follows Lara's career; details of matches and scores, clashes with administrators, interspersed with comments from cricketers, journalists and others, who offer their takes on what was going on behind the scenes.
Explaining Lara's "late" entry to Test cricket, a local journalist thought captain Viv Richards felt he was not a team man. "He was a selfish player; he wanted to do well for himself first and foremost, that was Brian's attitude and Richards didn't want that." Fuller seeks out Jimmy Adams, who denies that, saying Lara was kept outside because the team was winning.
On his April 2007 retirement announcement, former West Indies Players' Association president Dinanath Ramnarine says that Lara called him about it. "He was forced out, there's no question about it." Deryck Murray then comments that player jealousy had a part to play. "There were a group of players who weren't too unhappy to see him go."
Fuller tries to get different sides of the story, but it is overall a sympathetic portrayal. There are tidbits - he was a good wicketkeeper; the sports coach at Fatima College thought he was "very ordinary" when he first saw him; his size was always an issue; his obsession with breaking records from very young; the prickly relationship with Lance Gibbs - but they run alongside a narrative that tells the still-fascinating story of a young man's passion for the game and his complicated journey.
For such a series, Fuller, now a writer at the Bay of Plenty Times in New Zealand, has done a thorough job. Even for those who have followed Lara's journey, it is still an engaging read.
Brian Lara: An unauthorised biography