Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lara has the edge on ‘Little Master’


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Brian Lara was the best batsman of his generation.
The retiring Sachin Tendulkar would command second position.
The Trinidadian legend gets my nod because at his best he was very dominant and bowlers struggled to contain him under all conditions.
In essence, though, this matter has to be considered beyond raw figures because both players have a huge slate of batting highlights which define them as two of the greatest who have played the game.
What do you make of a player who holds world records for the highest test score (400) and the highest first class total (501)?
In 131 tests he scored 11 953 runs averaging 52.89 per innings. Hit 34 hundreds with a strike rate of 60.51.
In 299 ODIs he amassed 10 405 runs, 19 hundreds  at an average of 40.02 and a strike rate of 79.52.
Just for good measure, he’s a player who has two triple centuries in tests.
History will judge Lara’s exploits favourably.
The same thing applies to Tendulkar.
So far he’s played 198 tests scoring 15 837 runs, 51 centuries, averaging 53.87 with a strike rate of 54.06.
His 463 ODIs have netted him 18 426 runs, 49 centuries for an average of 44.72 and a strike rate of 86.23.
It is arguable that Lara could have matched his Indian nemesis had he played a similar amount of games at all levels. His ability to do so can’t be in question.
The only question that can be asked is why he left or was forced to leave the international scene so soon?
But that’s for another debate.
However, I still maintain that although statistics are irrefutable they don’t always tell the full story about a player’s ability.
Technique, temperament, mental toughness, the importance of an innings in special circumstances, are some of the other factors that should come into the scales of scrutiny.
Thus, they may become decisive in separating players with similar statistics.
For instance, with apologies to the great Don Bradman who rated Sir Garfield Sobers’ 254 for the Rest Of The World in 1971 as the best innings played on Australian soil, some other experts might rate Lara’s 277 in Sydney in 1993 as better.
Being run out in that innings seemed to be the only way the Australians would get him out.
Then a few months later in 1994 he went on to eclipse Sobers’ test record of 365 not out by peppering England with 375 at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
He again showed his penchant for big scores by hitting 400 against England in 2004 to regain his test record from Australian Matthew Hayden who held it briefly slamming 380 in 2003 off Zimbabwe.
The Trinidadian is the only man to break the test record twice.
 And who can forget his match-winning 153 not out against Australia in 1999 at Kensington Oval, steering the West Indies to victory with last man Courtney Walsh at the crease.
Several critics rated it as the best test innings ever based on the circumstances.
Should we mention Lara’s total eclipse of test record wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan in his own back yard on the Sri Lankan tour of 2001 when he amassed 688 runs in just three tests?
This feat came against the background of his colleagues being mesmerized by the Sri Lankan spin wizard and Carl Hooper, who was very competent against spin, conceding that he couldn’t read Murali.
Lara also won most of his battles against the great Shane Warne who finished his career as the second highest wicket-taker in tests.
We should also note that not many batsmen in test history had to carry a team on his shoulders longer than Lara.
He stepped up to the task manfully after the West Indies decline set in in the mid-90s and he was the only world class batsman we had for over a decade.
During the same time, it is a fact that India had about four for sure. Tendulkar apart, there was Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
Lara’s only consistent partner was Shivnarine Chanderpaul. In the majority of cases all roads virtually led to the batting genius who became known as “The Prince” to his fans around the world.
There was usually tremendous pressure on Lara to bat his team out of trouble. In this regard, he may have saved more matches for the West Indies than Tendulkar would have for India.
Yet, we note the Indian’s stellar 146 in a winning cause against South Africa at Cape Town in 2010 against the fiery Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Or his 119 as a 17-year-old against England at Old Trafford in 1991 when he helped his team save the game.
Lara’s ability to withstand pressure and concentrate for extensive hours while piling up big totals set him apart from his contemporaries.
From a West Indian viewpoint, it is said that George Headley came the closest to undertaking a similar responsibility in his time, followed by Sobers in his and some would argue that Chanderpaul finds himself doing the same thing now despite advancing age.
The only edge I would concede to the Indian “Little Master” is that he seemed to be more loved and appreciated by his people and those who run the game in India.
Lara suffered from our culture of pulling down our own no matter how great they are and irrespective of their contribution to society.
• Andi Thornhill is a former director of sports at the CBC, and an experienced award-winning journalist.


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