Clayton Murzello: That was a memorable knock, Brian!
West Indian batting legend Brian Lara delivering the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's Cricket Ground in London last week. Pic/Matt Bright
How good was Brian Lara's Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture last week at Lord's?
Well, it was a fiery one alright.
Lara shocked his audience when he said he was embarrassed by some of his teammates' antics during his early days as a West Indies player and before. The incident involving Michael Holding kicking the stumps in New Zealand was brought up. Ditto Colin Croft hurting Kiwi umpire Fred Goodall while running into bowl in the same 1980 series. Even first captain, Vivian Richards, was not spared for being hard on him at Lord's on his maiden tour to England in 1991. He also spoke about how a first slip fielder (which was Richards) pressurised an umpire to give English batsman Rob Bailey out caught behind when he didn't snick it in the Caribbean during the 1989-90 series.
I thought Lara went a fair way back to talk about the Holding incident without touching upon the background to that episode. New Zealand batsman Paul Parker gloved one which wicketkeeper Deryck Murray got hold of. Holding lost it when the umpire turned down the appeal and kicked the first thing he saw — the stumps. The umpiring was atrocious and New Zealand officials had a reputation for being inexperienced and incompetent. Probably, Lara could have spoken about the flip side too.
It's no secret that Holding and Lara don't send Christmas cards to each other. Holding felt that Lara was not a perfect team man. The former fast bowler also didn't shy away from being critical of his batting. Holding and I found ourselves in a lounge at Dhaka airport in 1998 waiting for our transport to arrive during a strike before the start of the Wills International Cup. I asked Holding about Lara's bad patch leading up to the tournament and he said: "I am not surprised that he is not doing as well as he ought to. For about a year, Lara did not pay much attention to his cricket. He took things for granted because he was the world record holder. He thought being a record holder, he could just go out there and get runs."
Lara's critics can point to the fact that he behaved like a prima donna after his world record Test and first-class performances in 1994. Brian Scovell, the journalist who collaborated with Lara for his autobiography, later narrated an incident in his very own book on Lara titled Brian Lara — Cricket's Troubled Genius. Scovell recalled working with Lara on his autobiography in Birmingham one summer morning in 1994, when suddenly Lara asked him whether he could come back at 11. Scovell asked whether that was 11 am or pm. When Lara said he meant 11 at night, straight-talking Scovell replied: "Well, I don't know about you, I usually think about going to bed at 11." Even Warwickshire captain Dermot Reeve had problems with Lara's attitude while he was at the county, but the one thing that Lara's detractors cannot accuse him of is his sportsmanship while batting. He always walked when he thought he was out. And the few times he stayed put at the crease was only because of his disappointment at getting out.
The walking issue was part of Lara's lecture. He didn't think it was fair to get a second chance, "when everybody is toiling." However, Michael Vaughan, the then England skipper, believed that Lara was out before he scored the first of his 400 runs in the Antigua Test of 2004. But Lara clarified that he didn't feel the edge and hence didn't walk.
Thanks to Lara's lecture, we learned about how bad he felt for not shaking hands with hosts England after West Indies won the 2004 Champions Trophy final at the Oval. He admitted that his team went on with their celebrations instead of indulging in some hand-shaking and the fact that they finally beat England after losing seven of the last eight Tests they played against them before that one-day final had a role to play in them forgetting their cricketing manners.
Lara is no paragon of cricketing perfection. He's had his share of shenanigans. He loved his late nights and he got into trouble for that occasionally. But he played the game in the true spirit and he couldn't have been more right by insisting that the best team in the world ought to play the game in the true spirit. He reminded Ricky Ponting's Australians of this at the Adelaide Oval in 2005.
Terming Lara's lecture a good one would be as obvious as saying he was a good batsman. He may have hurt a few people while delivering it, but he opened a few eyes and minds, and touched a few hearts. In six Test visits to the hallowed crease of Lord's, Lara did not have the pleasure of scoring a Test hundred there. Last week, as it were, he scored a sizzling, memorable one. That's how good his lecture was!
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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