"Sourav is my favourite. His leadership against Australia in Australia was astonishing. I have great respect for him," Lara said at a Dell event on leadership here last night. He also praised Kapil Dev and "good friend" Sachin Tendulkar for their leadership qualities. "In 1983 West Indies were dominating and I thought it would be cake walk for them in the final. So I went out to play only to come and know that India won, which was a surprise and Kapil Dev as a leader had a lot of role to play," he said.
"Then there is my friend Sachin Tendulkar, what he has done for cricket, it can't be repeated. His contribution to Indian cricket and world cricket is immeasurable," he added.
On Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's captaincy, Lara said, "I spoke to Dwayne Bravo about Dhoni, how he was as a leader while they played together for CSK. He told me one of his key strengths is that he is a great listener. Bravo told me how he sets goals but always looks for ideas and commitment from his players."
Lara took a stroll down memory lane as he recalled his his initial days and how he used a coconut branch as his first bat. "My first bat was shaped out of a coconut branch by my brother. And from that day, all I wanted to do was to be a West Indian cricketer. I would play cricket by myself in the yard and the team would be (Gordon) Greenidge, (Desmond) Haynes, (Vivian) Richards, Lara. From a very early age, I saw myself as a West Indies cricketer and nothing else," Lara said.
Lara also thanked his father for encouraging him and coming along to all his games. "I must also praise my father. He was tremendous. My dad was there at every single match I played for school, under-14, under-16 right upto when I got into the West Indies team. Unfortunately my dad passed away the very moment I made it into the West Indies team so he actually never saw me play (international cricket). But he was definitely the major influence in my career," he said.
The West Indies batting great also said his teammates were his biggest motivators and dismissed his critics' claims that he played for himself. "A lot of media and people said a lot of success was individual. How wrong could that be. My biggest motivation in life has been my team mates. Playing within the team is what motivated me. "My performances might have led to individual praise but for me playing within the team was the best thing that ever happened to me. I believe a team is a sum of individuals and each individual is depended on each other," he said.
"The 400 I scored was at a time when England was leading 3-0 in the series in West Indies, with one Test match to go. Drawing that Test match was more important than anything else. We got to 750. Some people said we batted too long," he added.
The Trinidadian said he would gladly give his records away to be part of the successful West Indies team who dominated the sport in 70s and 80s. "I believe most records are destiny. In terms of 375 and 400, in terms of when they were scored and the way they were scored, I believe it was because of destiny. I would give any record away for success. If I played in a successful West Indies team, say for instance in the 70s and 80s, when we won for 15 straight years, I would give away any record for that," Lara said.
The 44-year old said he relished challenges and preferred to come onto bat when the chips were down. "I love challenge. When the score was 300 for 2, I didn't like to bat. I liked to bat at 20 for 3. When the opposition tail is up and I am going with my back against the wall. I relished those occasions. I believe when you show true character under adverse situation, is when you become a true man," he said.
Lara said he got nervous before going into bat but used to work hard at the nets to be prepared for any situation that might arise. "Like most sportsmen, I am very nervous before I go on to bat. I think that is something shared by a lot of the top sportsmen around the world. If someone is not nervous, I am not sure what sport they are involved in. Pre-game is where I do a lot of my hard work," he said.
"I worked as hard as possible on my game in the nets. I trained. Michael Jordon trained so hard that when he got to the game, he was on cruise control. And I felt the same way when I put myself through tougher things and got into the middle," he added. The former West Indies captain said he was most critical of himself when he was doing well and not when he was going through a lean patch. "I am most critical of myself, when I am doing well. When I score a hundred against Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, I know for a fact they will go and check on their computers to see how I was batting."
"They will pick up a few things where I was lucky enough not to get out, and they will come back the next day, looking to counter that. I do what they do and keep a step ahead of them. When I am not scoring many runs, I tend to be less critical because you are going to go through bad patches," Lara added. Lara said former West Indies skipper Courtney Walsh was the true leader and people should try to emulate him. "...Courtney Walsh wanted the team to be successful. He knew exactly what he had to do even when he was not the captain. That for me are the qualities of a true leader. Someone who is not necessarily a captain wearing the arm band but someone who knows their responsibility at all different levels," he said.
"Courtney Walsh is someone that I will have full praise for and someone whom I consider to be a true leader. His stats don't show that as a captain, tactically he wasn't the best but in terms of character trait as a leader he is someone I would love to see a lot of people emulate," he added.