Brian Lara looks at the replay as he walks off
© Fairfax Media via Getty Images
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Hate to Love

The Lara nightmare

A saga in which Australian hopes were repeatedly ground to dust

Ben Pobjie |

How could I not hate Brian Lara? He was exactly the kind of cocky, flashy show-off that Australians are trained from birth to despise: especially if the show-off is not Australian; and doubly so if the show-off happens to be very, very good. To see a man who is too big for his boots is anathema for many an Aussie fan. To see the same man demonstrate that, in fact, he fits into those boots perfectly is utterly unbearable.

My memories of Lara are mainly of frustration, of games that my beloved Australia would have won easily were it not for this contemptuous aristocrat standing in the way, plundering great and average bowlers alike. And he did it with such a born-to-rule attitude that you grew to hate the sight of him. He had an arrogance that you never sensed in Sachin Tendulkar, his rival for the title of world's best and a much harder man to hate. When in full flight, Lara batted like an angry lord horsewhipping a servant: he didn't just obliterate bowlers, he behaved as if it was sheer impertinence for them to even dare bowl to him.

If anything, the fact that Lara barely participated in the era of West Indian invincibility made him all the more loathsome. Marshall, Garner, Holding and Ambrose battered and crushed Australia; Richards, Greenidge, Lloyd and Richardson flayed them; but to hate these men seemed pointless. They were grand and terrifying, so clearly on another level that their feats were merely the natural order of things.

You could hate this remarkable batsman. But you couldn't watch him slash and thunder his way through the world's best attacks without being aware that you were witness to something extraordinary

Brian Charles Lara was a different kettle of fish. I was introduced to him during the epic and desperately close 1992-93 series when he lit up the otherwise deathly dull Sydney draw with a frighteningly powerful 277 that would still be going on were it not for a run-out. After that series - the last time West Indies held the Frank Worrell Trophy - Lara increasingly became the shining light in a struggling team. My team beat his more often than not, which made his triumphs all the more irritating. I still remember a one-day international in Perth, in January 1997, when with West Indies on the mat, half-out, far behind the asking rate and limping towards a meek defeat, Lara suddenly decided he'd rather win. An assault of utter savagery ensued. He swung Australia's best bowlers to and over every part of the ground with all the difficulty of a lion swatting aside a rabbit.

I remember even better the 1998-99 series, which Australia would have won 4-0 were it not for Lara's monumental 213 in the second Test, and his unbeaten 153 in the third - the latter surely as good an innings as anyone has ever played. The Test was done and dusted, West Indies five down and 203 short of victory, when Lara once again made up his mind: Australia should lose. And so they did, by one wicket, following a display of batsmanship so breathtaking it was positively symphonic. A mighty Australian team drew the series 2-2 with a feeble West Indian side, purely because of Lara's unmatched ability to heave the whole team onto his shoulders and drag them towards the light. And sitting at home in Sydney, bleary-eyed and exhausted after staying up all night with the radio for company, I seethed at this up-himself little aristocrat's denial of the complete domination that Australia surely deserved after the humiliations of the '80s. If there was one thing Lara specialised in, it was denying Australians their full measure of joy. He wouldn't even let an Australian keep his world record for more than six months, topping Matthew Hayden's 380 with his own 400 not out before we'd even had a chance to revel in it.

Aussie basher: Lara lets 'em have it at Kensington Oval, 1999

Aussie basher: Lara lets 'em have it at Kensington Oval, 1999 © Getty Images

And yet, and yet… as easy it was to hate Lara, the harder it was to deny his dazzling, intoxicating appeal, which stemmed not only from his genius, but also from his frailty. If there was something monstrous about Lara's ability to compile gigantic scores, there remained something appealingly human about the way that ability would periodically desert him. If Tendulkar lacked Lara's appetite for the truly gargantuan, Lara never quite had Tendulkar's calm, perennial authority. He was a true artist: possessed of boundless creativity and unmatched aesthetic expression, yet also captive to the artistic temperament; arrogant, moody and prone to distraction.

That Lara rose amid the ruins of an empire cannot have helped his demeanour. As defeat for West Indies became the natural order, a crumbling dynasty turned to its last titan. Yet in taking on that burden, Lara proved himself perhaps an even greater player than he could have been had he been surrounded by fellow champions. If this was a one-man team, there can rarely have been one man so well equipped for the job.

Lara batted like an angry lord horsewhipping a servant: he didn't just obliterate bowlers, he behaved as if it was sheer impertinence for them to even dare bowl to him

And no matter what context you saw him in, no matter what team you cheered for, there was no argument against those strokes. The high, ominous backlift, daring the bowler to sneak under it. The glide across the crease and into perfect position. The square drive, flashed off front or back foot with a bullfighter's flourish. The square cut, rasped at light speed through point from anything a smidgen short or wide. The iron-wristed pulls and subtle glances, the feet tap-tapping down the wicket like a crocodile springing from the water, the bat whipping through in a brutal arc to unleash a cannonade into the stand. Innings after innings played with cyclonic force, cavalier grace allied to an inner fury, punishing anyone with the temerity to send a ball his way.

You could hate this remarkable batsman. You could curse his name and grind your teeth whenever he hove into sight. But you couldn't watch him slash and thunder his way through the world's best attacks without being aware that you were witness to something extraordinary. At the end, even an Australian who had wished countless times to see the back of him knew that his life was richer. Even an Australian could be grateful to have seen his team put to the sword by a man who piled up mountains of runs, more remorselessly than anyone since Bradman, but made every moment of accumulation a work of art. Brian Charles Lara, you gave us so much. If only a little less of it had been against Australia.

Ben Pobjie is a writer and comedian from Melbourne, who writes for the Age and the Roar website. His latest book is Error Australis

 

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  • POSTED BY kumarsap on | November 28, 2016, 17:52 GMT

    Lara has 500, 400, 375, 277, 221.. Tell me one batsman in the last 50 years who has scored like this ?

  • POSTED BY Rohan1 on | September 24, 2016, 5:35 GMT

    As regards "style" etc. readers may want to view clips of Roy Fredericks. Lara was one of a long line of flamboyand left-handed West Indian batsmen. As sure when they were "On" - It was great viewing.

  • POSTED BY Rohan1 on | September 24, 2016, 5:05 GMT

    "Overrated" would obviously be a ridiculous word to use for Lara - but Lara had Zero Test hundreds vs. any true fast bowler ( 145k plus, not the Mcgrath type line-and-lengthers or medium pace) till around 2003-4. In the last few years of his career he managed 4 against Lee and Flintoff on benign batting wickets.

  • POSTED BY Jameckin on | September 24, 2016, 2:10 GMT

    @Mike Tyson -- My friend, what would you like me to prove? Just YouTube his name and you will find almost all of his major innings, or use the Statsguru here on Cricinfo to find his stats. Wasim Akram, Mc Grath, Kallis, Murali, Ponting, Gillespie, Dravid, Sangakkara, Viv, to name some of the few who believe he is by far the best. I know Shane Warne, Andy Flower and a lot others have claimed the same about Tendulkar, however, the weight is more on Lara's side.

    Don't get me wrong as I love Tendulkar's batting. Indeed, he is one of the all time greats. However, when it comes to "sheer entertainment", I don't think there is anyone close to Brian Charles Lara. Sports is all about entertainment. It was asked to Rahul Dravid and Jack Kallis "who would you pay money to watch", they responded Lara.

  • POSTED BY CricketChat on | September 23, 2016, 17:40 GMT

    At their personal best, I would place Lara ahead of any modern era batsmen in the last 40 years or so, including the venerable one, Viv Richards and Sachin, Ponting or any other batsmen. Period.

  • POSTED BY Jpizel on | September 23, 2016, 16:47 GMT

    Most of you dont know that King Viv only has two hundreds vs lillee and thomson. One ofne the least australian of the auusie grounds, Adelaide and one in a high scoring draw in brisbane. Does that undermine the claim that he is the best player of express pace in history, certainly not. Two centuries against imran khan on what could be argued to be feather beds, multan and QPO, does that dim imran's view that viv richards is the greatest batsman in history? Absolutely not. Soall this talk, lara has no century against express pace is nonsense. Lara has significant scores vs express pace against every express pace bowler. He just didn't hold out long enough to reach 3 figures.

  • POSTED BY Jpizel on | September 23, 2016, 16:19 GMT

    Donald actually said in an interview that lara fought fire with fire which was the exact methodology king viv used, both falling by the way sometimes. I saw lara go after donald in centurion, i think he hit him four three or four boundaries in a row. Lara's problem was then was not technical, it was a mental thing. Going back to that same innings, the ball that dismissed him kicked up from back of a length, lara instinctively jumped to play it instead of moving out of the way and of course it rared at his head and he gloved it to silly point. Ironically that is a tactic several pace men have used to get at him in the 90s, the problem disappeared after 2000. Flintoff and harmison used bouncers to soften everybody up. They were virtually unplayable in 2004-2006. Lara has 73 vs shane bond at his fastest in barbados and bond used a slower delivery to dismiss him. Atherton has a hundred vs donald at the wanderers, is atherton a better player than lara?

  • POSTED BY Jpizel on | September 23, 2016, 15:58 GMT

    @mike tyson. Lara struggled against donald not because he was technically incapable. There were major on the field issues, the same issues took place in pakistan 1997. Lara has odi hundreds against akram and waqar on SABINA PARK-one of the pitches responsible for the introduction of helmets. His second ever first class innings was 96 vs marshall and garner at kensington in 1988,marshall hadn't then cut his speed. Well we know of his exploits against lee. He scored 96 vs wasim and waqar in 1992 when the highest score in that match before was 125. Ironically he was dismissed by muqtaba, a spinner. You know I've always said lara should have put his head down and batted donald into oblivion even if it is for the sake of his name. If there was one time he should have played for himself, it was then.

  • POSTED BY Philip_Gnana on | September 22, 2016, 19:50 GMT

    A great read, this. I was always in a dilemma when it came to choosing between Lara and Sir Viv re the better batsman. When you consider the team that Lara played in, you got to give it to him. He was a nightmare for bowlers when in full flow. Savagery at its best oozing with class. He made batting seem so simple - even playing great bowlers. Poor Matt Hayden did not have much time to revell in his world recordd score. Oh my did not Lara do it in style and make that 400 look so easy. Cap it with the 500 too. Thank you for this great article on this great batsman. Philip Gnana, Surrey

  • POSTED BY tappee74 on | September 22, 2016, 19:06 GMT

    MAD HAMISH ON. It amazes me how people sometimes fail to see the glory in others success. To be drafted into a test side is a marathon task. Lara broke Sir Gary's record which was hanging there for decades.Lara's 375 was broken by Hayden,but not too long after Lara overhauled it with a daunting 400 not out. He soon challenged Haniff's first class record of 499 with a placid 501 not out. I don't know what you are calling "featherbeds", attack,but this much I know,400 runs on village level bowling is still not an easy task. We must recognize class beyond expectation. 375,400,501.277 and a host of double centuries. Lara is a supreme class who stands alone. About Shiv,it is untrue that the early part of his career was plagued by injuries which had him in and out of the team.Shiv may not fit Lara's booths,but he is a great batsman and player.

  • POSTED BY cricfan54299734 on | September 22, 2016, 17:33 GMT

    Brilliant Article. Thank you for sharing it. Poetically written about a batsman who when he gets going, is visual poetry. I am a huge fan of Ponting, Kallis, Lara and most recently ABD, Amla and of course Kohli. I do have to say that I will still put Lara at the top of my list.

  • POSTED BY Mike_Tyson on | September 22, 2016, 16:58 GMT

    @CRZCRIC - yes he was great against spin although I dont think he dominated murali anymore than Sachin doninated Warne. There were also other great players of spin. Now genuine pace? No, Lara was not a great player of genuine pace, in fact he struggled a lot against genuine fast bowlers. I remember when windies lost 5-0 against SA and Donald had Lara jumping around all iver the place. You say all conditions, he averaged about 11 in NZ so no not quite brilliant in all conditions

  • POSTED BY crzcric on | September 22, 2016, 15:57 GMT

    Undoubtly the Best batsman in late 90s and early 2000s. Doesn't matter the conditions, opponent ,either pace or spin when he is get going. Its always a great pleasure to watch when this champ dominating bowlers ruthlessly.

  • POSTED BY Mike_Tyson on | September 22, 2016, 10:59 GMT

    @ Mad_Hamish - Actually yes I can. Shiv wasn't out of the side as much as you claim. Lara played with Richards a lot. I would class Hooper, J Adams, Gayle, Sarwan as very very good players. People also seem to forget that he had 2 world class bowlers that ripped through most sides they played against. Walsh and Ambrose, Bishop weren't too bad either. You are right in that the England attack in both matches wasn't bad however I wouldn't class any of Harmison, Freddie, Jones or Hoggy as great or even bordering on greatness.

    He was a very fine batsman and one of the best of his era however I personally feel that the praise on him borders on the ridiculous sometimes. He definitely was not a one man team and he did not win as many matches single handedly as people claim. If he did, anyone please feel free to prove it.

  • POSTED BY Beertjie on | September 22, 2016, 10:20 GMT

    I fully endorse the cliche about comparisons being odious, a term in another context I'd also reserve for the behaviour of Harbhajan Singh! Nevertheless, @MIKE_TYSON, good as Punter was, how many times was he dismissed by Bhaji? I'm glad you wrote "Mcgrath clearly had his number dismissing him 19 times", because it is fact. So are the number of times Alec Bedser dismissed the Don in his last 2 Ashes series! We are talking about genius who are by definition flawed despite their outrageous talent. Appreciate, don't deprecate.

  • POSTED BY AnthonyMD on | September 22, 2016, 9:00 GMT

    As an Australian, I loved him, although he often lacked consistently, the Aussies picked him up cheaply often enough, that being said however I still rate his 277 at Sydney in 1992 as the best innings I have ever seen. I can't forget the Aussie tour of the West Indies in 1999 either, he made hundreds for fun, that snap of the wrists as he middled the ball when he was in form is an image indelibly etched in my memory, no better batsman to watch as far as I am concerned.

  • POSTED BY Analyst_skipper on | September 22, 2016, 7:30 GMT

    Salute to the man named Brian Lara... Surely the night mare to all bowlers around the world..

  • POSTED BY Rohan1 on | September 22, 2016, 7:01 GMT

    Lara actually had one great series( His best other than the SL) one at home vs. Aus in 1999. Those mainly 2 great innings (with ample luck) are the major factor in the Lara stats vs. Aus. In Aus intself Lara avg. 42.

  • POSTED BY cantwaittosee on | September 22, 2016, 3:07 GMT

    Another couple of positives come to mind about Lara. One was his propensity to score big. Once he scored big, he really scored big. And second, where Lara's genius I think was very unique, was that once he got going, the way he manoeveured and turned the ball into gaps with ease and at will, it almost gave you a feeling that Lara almost had a map of how he wanted the innings to progress. What I mean is he almost had a map of how many runs he wanted to score off which over off which bowler to reach his target, no matter how far the target was. But on the negative side, there was another huge negative. Lara had this tendncy to go hot and cold. And unfortunately, for a great batsman, the cold patches were too depressing. Cheers!

  • POSTED BY Jeremy48 on | September 22, 2016, 2:55 GMT

    Odd that there's no mention of Lara's astonishing 2005 away series against Sri Lanka: 688 runs at 115 (top-scoring in five of the six WI innings) for a side that was thrashed 3-0. Nothing to compare since Sutcliffe in the 1924-25 Ashes series in Australia, which England lost 4-1.

  • POSTED BY Mad_Hamish on | September 22, 2016, 1:00 GMT

    @Mike_Tyson Care to name the other world class batsmen in the Windies team while Lara played for them? Lara came in at the end of the line for Haynes, Richardson etc and Chanderpaul was in and out with injury and largely improved after Lara had retired. As far as his world records being against an average England attack on featherbeds Fraser and Caddick weren't bad bowlers and Hoggard, Harmison, Jones and Flintoff isn't a terrible pace lineup, on the second featherbed England were rolled for 285 in their first innings (115 runs less than Lara made in his only innings) Not too many world record scores have been made against great bowling attacks for some reason, I'd certainly rate the English ones ahead of the Zimbabwe attack Hayden made his runs against.

  • POSTED BY cantwaittosee on | September 22, 2016, 0:38 GMT

    I am not a numbers guy, and rarely ever look at numbers to form an opinion. But recently, on another blog, I found out that Lara averages 46 outside of Windies. That just confirmed what I had always thought.

  • POSTED BY cantwaittosee on | September 22, 2016, 0:35 GMT

    Lara was overrated. Lara was a good batsman, actually great with a lot of Great attributes. Very classy, very elegant, very aggressive in Tests (one of the best actually), supreme against spin, an absolute delight and supreme once in full flow, and Yes, those wristy square drives and cuts and lifts over long on against spinners were great. But Lara had a couple of flaws that were just too big to ignore. Most importantly, Lara was 'Weak' against extreme Pace. Anytime I saw him against Donald or Akhtar or on a quick wicket against a genuine quick, I always felt he was uncomfortable and was out of position way too often. Secondly, Lara was an extremely sluggish starter. Until he got going, Lara looked like searching for the ball. Most of his accomplishments are in West Indies and anybody who understands Cricket knows that during the time Lara played, West Indies tracks were some of the slowest tracks ever. (Another one is Pakistan in 80s.)

  • POSTED BY ChutneyWalsh on | September 21, 2016, 14:36 GMT

    There are many who railed against the seeming selfishness of Lara's brilliance, yet while watching the Windies capitulate time and time again against superior opposition without even the suggestion of a contest who doesn't wish for a Lara to come along and compile a selfish record or two, even if it is in aid of a losing effort?

  • POSTED BY ravi on | September 21, 2016, 12:07 GMT

    Well written Ben! I don't understand the hatred of Lara. How can one hate Lara??? He was like Ernest Hemingway.. maddening but a true genius. He was indisputably the most feared batsman of his era. Comparisons that people have made with Sachin Tendulkar are in an odious spirit. Tendulkar's greatness was distinctly different from Lara's greatness. People saying 2nd only to Don, etc, just lack the kind of inspired spirit that Cricket engenders in the hearts of generations. There will be more aggressive batsmen, more skillful craftsmen - and generations wash upon generations. It is perhaps the destiny of every generation to consider itself the creator of the greatest and the most accomplished, barring a few. So, my suggestion to all those who "rank" players for their greatness and every second aspect of the game, is Cricket is like a warm bodied mother who can embrace many children at the same time. Its time the madness of comparisons of players stopped.

  • POSTED BY Mike_Tyson on | September 21, 2016, 11:35 GMT

    If ever a batsman was overrated then it has to be this guy. A fine batsman but people get carried away with the myth that the Windies were a one man team and Lara won many matches for them single handedly. Both his world records were on featherbeds against an average English attack. Without looking at the stats, he played 2-3 match winning innings against Aus. Mcgrath clearly had his number dismissing him 19 times!! despite what people say, he actually did have some world class players in his side throughout his career yet for some unknown reason people seem to ignore this and look at him as the lone ranger.

    He averaged about 11 in NZ, was pretty average against genuine pace although brilliant against spin. I would take Punter any day of the week.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | September 21, 2016, 11:15 GMT

    A great tribute to a great batsman! Tendulkar and Lara both gave crowds and cricket so much. Lara in full flight, especially against the Aussies, was a joyful sight unlikely to be repeated for a long long time!

  • POSTED BY SamRoy on | September 21, 2016, 4:44 GMT

    BC Lara, that flawed, absolute genius. Yes, when he started an innings he was a little suspect. He did not have the strong defensive technique like a Kallis, Dravid or even Tendulkar to comfortably survive the early period. So quite often he got out early unlike Kallis, Dravid or Tendulkar. However, once he got going he always was in a league of his own and nobody even came anywhere near that league of his own. I should know that. I have watching cricket for more than 25 years. Lara on a 100 and batting regally probably was the finest sight in cricket, closely followed Wasim reversing the old ball both ways and Warne bowling on a fifth day pitch.

  • POSTED BY harshthakor on | September 17, 2016, 10:07 GMT

    Overall to me in test cricket Lara rated 2nd to only Bradman.No batsmen after Sir George Headley has scored such a high percentage of his team's average score as Brian.His 5 best scores overshadow that of any batting great with his unbeaten 153 at Barbados v Australia arguably the best test innings ever.At his best Lara took the art of batting to a higher dimension executing shots not in the text book.Often he reminded you of a painter expressing his feelings through the touches of his brush on the board.It would be difficult for a writer to get adjectives to describe the depths of Lara's domination in full flow.The ball would be sent scurrying all over the place with the power of a bulldozer and the wizardy of amagician but still posess the touches of an artist.Viv Richards was more murderous but still did not equal Lara's capacity for domination for such a prolonged period.

  • POSTED BY kumarsap on | September 14, 2016, 11:16 GMT

    Thankyou BEN POBJIE for this wonderfull and heart warming article. I sometimes wonder why shane warne always rates sachin higher, this article tells me why.

    Lara has very clearly dominated Shane Warne which warne cannot digest. The difference between Lara and sachin is , Lara would accept the battle and Sachin will try to avoid the battle.

    Also Lara has never changed the way he played his game till the end and his average only increased in later part of his career this is one major difference in both's careers.

    I am just wondering if the same innings of 213, 153, 277, 400, 375 , 221 was played by an Indian the argument of who is the best batsman would never even arise. Its heart warming to see someone at least recognize that Lara was surely better.

    There can be another Sachin Tendulkar,, there cannot be another LARA, we can never see that high back lift slashing through the air like a sword hitting the ball with full follow through.

    Lara's 153 is surely the greatest innings.

  • POSTED BY Jpizel on | September 1, 2016, 13:20 GMT

    He certainly has calmed down in the later phases of his life. I really don't know why people say The Prince was selfish. Lara played every single minute of his life for the WI, a thankless task and for the game of cricket. If he was selfish, he would have taken days to score a hundred like boycott. Yes 375, 501 and 400 were long innings, but at least with the two test records, the match was still winnable. Lara gave his bowlers two and a half days to win. If you cant do that, then you should not be playing tests. 196, 212, 176, 202, are monumental innings against great bowlers. The 122 at QPO where brett lee was charging in at 150kph and peaked at 153 burnt the fallacy of his ability against pace to a crisp.