In an era that is seeing batsmen like Virat Kohli and Steven Smith dominate, Brian Lara, has picked a surprise name as his current favourite. In this interview with ESPNcricinfo on the sidelines of the Road Safety World Series in Mumbai, Lara speaks about four-day Tests, the best traveling team in the world and the hopes he has from West Indies in the men's T20 World Cup later this year.
Who are your favourites for this year's T20 World Cup?
In terms of a team, obviously I want to see the West Indies go all the way and win. India, with the fact that they produce so much international cricketers through their league has enhanced every single player who plays for India. I mean KL Rahul is my favourite player in the world, I love watching him and I think India is going to be a force to reckon with. Australia at home… it's not going to be an easy World Cup for anyone. Australia is going to be worried about India and the West Indies, West Indies are going to be worried about everybody because of their inconsistency sometimes. So it's going to be a great World Cup to look at.
Tell us more about KL Rahul?
His technique and grace is just unbelievable. Of course, up there in the top three you've got Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma but every time I see him (Rahul) facing a delivery, I just love it; his head is over the ball all the time, he has a technique that I wish I had.
If his technique is that good, does he deserve another chance in the Tests then?
He's got the technique. I don't know why he's not in the squad, maybe it's because he's not been performing, New Zealand was a tough series for India. KL Rahul has the technique for all forms of the game and for me more Test cricket than anything else. And if he performs so well in T20s and the 50-overs game, I think Test cricket is really where he's made for.
Who else do you really enjoy watching?
There are a lot of good players around the world. Virat Kohli is someone I have great respect for. Rohit Sharma is a gun and I love to see him bat, I mean five classy centuries in the World Cup was just tremendous. In the West Indies, I like Nicholas Pooran, he's a left-handed batsman and I think that he's setting down and understanding his responsibilities more now.
Where do you stand on the issue of batsmen being run-out backing up?
I think players should be warned and they should have an appreciation. A guy who is walking out of his crease purposefully because he wants to take advantage is wrong. But eventually ending a guy's innings, that is also not a great thing. So I believe that players should really and truly respect the spirit of the game, both batsmen and bowlers.
Do you think Tests should be reduced from five to four days to accommodate another tournament in the calendar?
I think Test matches should be result [-oriented] every single time. I know that maybe 60-75% or maybe even more Test matches do have a result. But I think it should find a way where that 450 overs that are being played over five days ends in a result some way or the other. I think that's most important.
Winning away Tests has become more and more difficult. How would you rate India as a travelling team?
I think India have been traveling very well in the last ten or so years. What happened in New Zealand, I think it's more of an aberration, I think coming off so much one-day and T20 cricket, it might have been tough for them in the Test arena outside of India. But I think India is still maybe the best traveling team in the world.
"I think we [West Indies] have got a great chance [at the T20 World Cup] and my biggest worry is that every other team will be worrying about the West Indies, and they're going to put their best foot against the West Indies. I hope that the guys are up for the challenge.Brian Lara
What do you think of Kieron Pollard as a captain, and the fact that he just played his 500th T20?
It's a tremendous achievement first of all to play so many T20 games, it's unbelievable. Kieron Pollard has been around for quite some time. I remember his first game was in 2007 for the World Cup. Obviously he's played a lot of franchise cricket around the world and I think the experience he has gained under different captains and by captaining teams in franchise cricket around the world, he brings a lot of experience. What he also has is cohesiveness in the bunch of players that he is in charge of. I think everyone respects him, which is important and he has a very good head on his shoulder. [He's a] fair guy as well so I expect him to do very well for West Indies and I expect everyone to rally. The most important thing is a captain is as good as his team, and if he has support from his team - and a very talented team at that, especially in the T20 version of the game - I think he's going to get the best out of them.
West Indies have two important series coming up this year - the England tour and the T20 World Cup.
I think mentally we're still struggling in the longest version of the game. Looking at the standings [in the World Test Championship] I noticed that West Indies got no points and we have a series coming against England in England, that's going to be tough for us to get points. I don't think we're mentally ready for that level of the game.
Traveling later in the year for the T20 World Cup I feel the kind of squad that we have - Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran, Pollard himself, Dwayne Bravo, I see Andre Russell is back, [Evin] Lewis, I think we've got a group of players in which any one or two or three of them can turn things on and beat the best in the world at what they do. I think we've got a great chance and my biggest worry is that every other team will be worrying about the West Indies, and they're going to put their best foot against the West Indies. And I hope that the guys are up for the challenge. I don't think we are going to be dark horses in the World Cup. I think everybody is going to look at the West Indies as the team to beat.
Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer are both talented, but they haven't been too consistent. Bravo just came back to the ODI squad but couldn't get a big score and Hetmyer was recently dropped for fitness issues. What should they do to live up to their potential?
That's the challenge that everyone should take. People have challenges in different ways and Hetmyer, obviously, is a very talented cricketer, someone who plays all forms of the game for the West Indies. If he is unfit, as they say he is, he has to see it as a personal challenge. Fitness levels are so very important, and not just that, the fact that if you can face those - things that you see as a negative in your approach in your life, it's so very important. So if fitness is his problem, I would like to see him face that challenge himself and he'll be a much better cricketer. You've seen pictures of Virat Kohli as a young man, before he turned things around and he actually says that this is the reason [why he's performing well now]. That is an example for Hetmyer.
Darren Bravo is someone who started his career with great potential, someone that everyone in the West Indies was looking forward to and see in terms of blossom into someone who can be one of our greats. [He] fell a little bit backwards but I still believe he has what it takes. I think he's struggling a little bit not in self-esteem but in terms of his confidence. I think he needs to get back that confidence, that borderline arrogance that you need as a batsman against all these tough bowlers around the world. And the minute he captures that, I think he's got the technique, he's got time on his hands to get back and really make a statement in world cricket.
Who are the younger players who excite you?
You called one name, Hetmyer, and I like Pooran as well. Shai Hope has done very well and I think he could play a part in the T20 World Cup, being that solid guy with a great technique that can hold the innings together. Those are the three players I'm really looking forward to seeing. Alzarri Joseph is someone who I look at and say 'this guys has got potential, he's a wicket-taker'. He is someone who I'd like to see do well.
Do you see Dwayne Bravo and Gayle playing the T20 World Cup?
I think the IPL is going to be a huge point or signal for who is actually who's going to carry on. It's still going to be five months after the IPL for the World Cup. Fitness levels are very important, but a gruesome tournament like the IPL is going to tell the West Indies selectors who are the players that they really need going into the last four months of preparation for the World Cup.
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo