Brian Lara

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Brian Lara

Brian Lara, the greatest batsman and the greatest cricket entertainer of his generation, played his final game of international cricket at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, against England on 21st April, 2007.

The man from Santa Cruz, Trinidad, was given a standing ovation by the capacity crowd and was afforded a guard of honour by the England players as he walked onto the pitch.

It was fitting that Lara, 37, bowed out against England because the two most memorable innings of his career came in matches against that country. In 1994 he blasted a then Test record 375 runs at Antigua’s Recreation Ground and, ten years later, he surpassed that with an incredible unbeaten 400 on the same pitch.

The Lara statistics are staggering – 131 Tests, 11,953 runs (the highest score in Test cricket history), including 34 centuries, nine double centuries and the highest-ever first-class score of 501, which he scored for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994. He played in 299 one-day internationals, scoring 10,405 runs.

But it was the manner in which he notched up these milestones that will live longest in the memories of cricket fans. His elegant swing was a joy to behold and the imagination of his stroke selection coupled with the power of his driving and the speed of his footwork made him a hugely potent force.

It could be said that Lara was born a generation too late because the dominance of world cricket by the West Indies was coming to an end when he appeared on the scene in the late nineteen-eighties. He made his Test debut against Pakistan in 1990 and three years later hit 277 against Australia.

In 1998 he took over the West Indies captaincy from Courtney Walsh. During the next two years he shocked Australia with scores of 213, 153 not out and 100. In an amazing series against Sri Lanka in 2000-01, he hit an extraordinary total of 688 runs, over 40% of the West Indies total.

At that time, he resigned as captain and took a break from the game. Remarkably, he regained the captaincy in 2003 and immediately scored 299 against Sri Lanka. In 2005 he scored 226 to pass Allan Border’s record of 11,174 runs.

That score of 153 against the Aussies in Barbados in 1999 is rated by Wisden as the second best innings in history. Chasing a target of 308, the Windies collapsed to 105 for five but Lara dug in and inspired his lower order batsmen to achieve an extraordinary victory.

But that inspiration has been missing during much of Lara’s reign as captain. His individual genius was there for all to see but he failed, time after time, to bring out the best in his fellow team members. That weakness was especially noticeable during this World Cup.

But international cricket will be the poorer without him. Ricky Ponting may have a superior Test average and Sachin Tendulkar a bigger fan club but Lara won more games with more style than any of his contempories.

Article by Julian Armfield, BBC World Service Sport, reporting for Totally Barbados