More than 80 times in his stellar 17-year cricketing career, Brian Charles Lara, Prince of Port-of-Spain, reached 50 runs; today, however, for the first time in his life, he’s reached 50 years. Cricketing 50s are oft-achieved; even for a Prince, a lifetime 50 is unique—in the pristine sense of that word.
It’s a real milestone. Stock-taking time, time to take a new guard and start again. You’re not targeting a landmark score, 365, say, or 380 or 499. Your focus is the biblical three-score-and-ten, not vouchsafed but earned, says the psalmist, ‘by reason of strength.’
The Prince’s strength is his cricket and there he makes a very strong case for his place in the pantheon. I imagine him on this red-letter day comfortable in his castle, peering literally down Maraval Road from his lofty perch atop it, looking figuratively down on the Magnificent Seven, Archbishop’s Palace, QRC, Stollmeyer’s Castle, Whitehall and the rest.
Later, this evening, there’ll be little time for reflection, little time for introspection. Surrounded by Leasel and Sydney and the grandchild and Tyla. he’ll pop the bubbly and celebrate in earnest, in style, a life well lived. I had imagined Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Shaka Hislop and a bevy of cricketing friends, including perhaps Sir Garry, also present but he’s said that’s not going to happen.
So, I am on my way to see him this morning to discuss his cricketing and other life. Aptly, on WACK Radio 90.1fm, Rootsman is singing his 2008 tribute, ‘Prince of Port-of-Spain.’
“Thanks for all you gave us,” he croons, “Brian Lara; we respect your genius, Brian Lara.”
Do we really? Have we really given ‘the greatest West Indian to grace the wicket’ his just desserts, this super batsman who covered himself and us in glory with his exploits on the cricket fields of the world? Like Garry Sobers and Viv Richards before him, he has always sought at the crease to bring us maximum pleasure. Did I entertain, he asked as he made his way off the scene so many years ago.
How does he feel on this once-in-a lifetime day? I’m curious as you doubtless also are.
I remember him talking about receiving his first ball as West Indies opener in the 1992 World Cup. He was instantly at his best, he said, after the ball thudded into the wicketkeeper’s gloves when he was only part-way through his shot. He went on to make a truly impressive 88, retiring unbeaten with a bruised foot when a century looked certain.
In my mind, I am running through my carefully prepared material, visualising the interview. Having committed all my written questions to memory, I want to anticipate his responses so as to be able to get and keep him talking freely.
So I don’t think I’ll start with a happy birthday loosener; he’s going to have to deal with either a bouncer or a yorker.
I want him instantly at his best.
EB: Brian, you’re the Prince of Port-of-Spain and arguably the king of batsmanship, with almost 12,000 Test runs and a string of coveted batting records to your name. So can it possibly be an accident or mere coincidence that your home, the world’s best batsman’s home, overlooks Stollmeyer’s Castle et al? Isn’t there, don’t you think, some kind of unmistakeable symbolism in that? Do you sometimes think of this place as the Magnificent Eighth?
Prince of Port-of-Spain (PP): (Laughs heartily) Well, you’re right about two things: this is my home and I have almost 12,000 Test runs and a string of batting records. The unmistakeable symbolism (he mocks my solemn tone and giggles) and all the rest, you have to take full responsibility for.
EB: Well, I think you’re specially blessed. I mean, April 12-18 fell in Holy Week this year, two historic knocks in St John’s, Santa Cruz, your hometown, means Holy Cross…
Do you really think it’s pure accident or mere coincidence that you are here, on this spot, above the Magnificent Seven?
PP: I have given it no thought at all, Mr Best; I thought we were here to talk cricket.
EB: We are talking cricket but you’re no ordinary cricketer. Anyway, moving right along…
Since April 12, Wired868 has been carrying a series titled ‘Multiple centuries we’ll always remember and two Aprils we’ll never forget.’ Have you read any of it?
PP: I have. And let me tell you straight off that WI won major trophies in 2012 and 2016; nobody sing a kaiso. It’s nothing (he threatens me with a wagging forefinger) to do with Brian Lara.
EB: Point taken. Two stories dealt with your personal Magnificent Seven: 277; 375; 501*; 213, 153* and 100 in ’98/99 and 400*.
I seem to remember your saying that you put the 153 against Australia at the very top of your list, degree of difficulty determining that.
If you were rating all 34 of your Test centuries on a simple satisfaction meter, would that innings also top the list?
PP: In terms of satisfaction, it’s really hard to beat. In any terms. It’s top of all my lists.
EB: Obviously, on its own the Antigua 100 is not a serious contender. If we also take out the first-class 501, would that leave your top five in Tests?
PP: Well, choosing five of 34 is a challenge but it seems to me you’re not far off. Sydney and the two world records obviously have to be there so we’re really discussing one place. The 213? Hmmmm… Let’s say yes for now but don’t hold me to that.
EB: What are the other possible contenders?
PP: The 122 in the Oval in 2003 for sure and my second Oval century in 2005, 196 against South Africa. Maybe the 221 out of 390 I made in Colombo in 2001. And there’s a double-century, 216, in Pakistan in 2006. (Pause) But when you lose the match, it makes a difference, sort of.
EB: Winning does make it sweeter, both for the entertainer and (laughs) the entertainee. Your world records, the biggest ones, came in drawn matches. I don’t suppose that spoiled them, did it?
But here is my question: do you think some batsman will one day pass 400 in a Test or 501 in a first-class game?
PP: (Pause) I feel better about the 400 than the 501.
First-class cricket is domestic cricket. It’s easier to control the conditions: flat pitch, shortish boundaries, little or nothing for the opposition to play for, etc, etc. That can be set up at home… although somebody still has to go out there and put 502 runs on the board.
But T20 cricket, I feel, is helping protect the major Test batting records. I suppose as cricket spreads and the list of Test-playing countries grows, we might see some batsman from a strong team finding conditions in his favour and probably getting up to 380 again (chuckles)…but not, I hope, all the way to 400.
I really think it will be a while; June 1994 was 25 years ago already, eh.
EB: If there was one moment, just one, of your long playing career that you could go back and fix, which moment would that be?
PP: There are a lot of moments I’d like to have back. Seventeen years is a long career, you know; a lot of water flows under the bridge in that time. (Pauses, head cocked) A lot of water. (Looks up at the ceiling) Let’s see now. If I could have one moment back—only one, right? (I nod)—it would be 1993 in Sydney… (Pause)
EB: “Young man, remember your next innings begins at zero”?
PP: Nah! (Laughs, gives me the thumbs-down) I wouldn’t call Hoops for that single that never was. (Pauses, smiles ruefully) I was seeing it big as a football that day. (Earnestly, almost sotto voce) I think I would have got Sobers record that day, Warne or no Warne.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part Two of Earl Best’s imaginary interview with the Prince of Port-of-Spain.