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Lara: Greatest left-handed batsman ever
by Partab Ramchand
Apr 24, 2007
Is he the greatest ever left-handed batsman? It will make a keen topic for discussion even as Brian Charles Lara has taken a final bow leaving us with a collage of memories. It’s funny but run up a list of the greatest batsmen and you will find they are all right-handers – Bradman, Hobbs, Hammond, Hutton, Headley, Gavaskar, Richards, Tendulkar and so on. There is not a left-hander among them. If one considers Gary Sobers as the all rounder supreme Lara is arguably the greatest ever left-handed batsman. The only other candidate I can come up is Graeme Pollock. But the career of that outstanding South African batsman was limited even though he ended with a career average of 60.97 after 23 Tests in which he hit seven centuries with a highest of 274.

Lara on the other hand was able to maintain his great record for over a decade and a half playing 131 Tests, scoring 34 hundreds and ending up with an average of almost 53. Included in the three figure list were seven double centuries, a triple and a quadruple. He is the only batsman to reclaim his record for highest individual Test score, is the leading run getter in Tests and is one of only half a dozen batsmen to cross the 10,000 run mark in ODIs. Of course he is in the unique position of also holding the record for the highest individual score in first class cricket. The only batsman to score a quadruple hundred in Tests Lara is also the only batsman to score over 500 in a first class innings. He also holds the record for the highest number of runs scored in an over in Tests – 28 off RJ Peterson against South Africa in 2003-04.

But that’s enough about Lara the record wrecker. One could go on and on and never stop but then he was never conscious of records. Had he been he would not have left the scene when just 47 runs short of becoming the first batsman to cross 12,000 runs in Test cricket or when he requires just one hundred to equal Tendulkar’s all time record of 35 Test hundreds. Records came to him as if divine right; his batting, after all, was ethereal. From the classical high backlift to the full follow through of the stroke he was a joy to watch. Spectators and the worldwide TV audience were enthralled by his classical batsmanship. As he has said ``I want to be remembered as someone who came out and entertained. It is a sport where people pay and come to watch you and to me it is very important when they say that they have enjoyed watching Brian Lara play or they have enjoyed the West Indies play.’’

Well, I am not too sure how many have enjoyed the West Indies play in the last decade or so but we all certainly enjoyed Lara play. Which brings me to the true greatness of the man who wielded the bat like a wand. Lara entered the scene just as the great West Indian team of the 80s was breaking up. By the mid 90s the break up was complete, the West Indies lost their No 1 ranking and the slide was swift as the replacements could not match up to the men they replaced. But Lara stood out like the boy on the burning deck, like Horatio on the tottering bridge. For well over a decade even as his teammates floundered and West Indies slumped from one embarrassing reverse to another Lara shone like a beacon. Displaying courage in adversity of the unbelievable kind Lara repeatedly played the rescue act to perfection not with laborious batting but by counter attacking thrillingly as only he could. It must have frustrated him no end to be part of a weak West Indian squad for so long. As he said more than once "I would give up any runs, any record just to be a part of the current Australian cricket team or the West Indies team of the 1980s. Unfortunately my career has been through the declining years of West Indies cricket and it's given me great sadness. There is a sense of unfulfilment. It’s been a great honour to achieve individual things for West Indies but it's all about how the team does and that concerns me more.’’

But Lara never allowed that concern to affect his batting which remained daisy fresh till the last. Why in only in his second last Test late last year, he got a double century in Pakistan. Timing was never a problem for Lara on the field and he proved that he could get it right off the field too. Oh yes, as an entertainer par excellence and as a batsman who epitomized courage in adversity Brian Charles Lara ranks amongst the finest batsmen ever and – dare I say it – the greatest left-hander ever.

 
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