Columnist Earl Best concludes his series on legendary West Indies and Trinidad and Tobago batsman Brian Lara with an imagined interview with the Prince of Port-of-Spain:
Earl Best (EB): Shane Warne calls some of Sachin Tendulkar innings “pretty amazing” and calls some of yours “unbelievable.”
“I think if you wanted to watch someone play,” he says, “Brian Lara was that guy; he had the flair.
“If you wanted someone to bat for your life, then Sachin was that guy.”
Pretty much your view, no?
Prince of Port-of-Spain (PP): Well, I know what he means because Sachin is a very complete batsman. (Chuckles) But I’d bat for my own life, thank you.
EB: There’s a great story about Don Bradman’s response when asked how he thought he would’ve coped against Warne’s wiles…
PP: Yes. I’ve heard it.
EB: How do you think the Don would have fared against Warne? And Murali?
PP: How can I doubt him? You know that he played 52 matches and ended up with an average of 99.94, right? And that although England developed Bodyline just to try to keep him to human numbers, he averaged 56 in that 1932/33 series?
EB: And how do you think you would have managed against Bodyline?
PP: I don’t have to guess. Ask Ramnaresh Sarwan about me and Bodyline. Weren’t you in the Oval in 2003 when Brett Lee had the fire raging in his belly and the devil in his eyes?
Wasim Akram bowling Bodyline might give me some trouble but I feel I would have handled anybody else, including Glenn McGrath, Steve Harmison and Allan Donald.
EB: Do you think the WI can handle what will be thrown at them in the World Cup? What do you think of this new team’s chances in England later this month?
PP: Well, I don’t believe in magic. You can lose a World Cup in the boardroom or the selection room but you can’t win one there. I think my choices would have been different but I think the selectors’ team is a talented team.
But we all know personnel alone don’t win titles; you have to get performance too… and not just in one or two matches! There are nine first round matches and only four semi-final places; where will it get us if we are brilliant on two or three days and mediocre in the other games?
EB: Years ago, you said that you were seeing “…confusion off the field, not any great performances on the field” and added that, in your view, “…we have the (…) human resources; we’re just not harnessing it properly.”
The solution, you said, or at least a part of it, lay in “a change at the top.”
That change at the top has just happened. What kind of difference if any do you expect the new leadership to make?
PP: Well, I repeat that I don’t believe in magic. I have a lot of respect for Ricky Skerritt and I like what I have seen from him so far. But nothing will happen by magic and nothing will happen overnight. One hand cyar clap.
No one man—president, vice-president, captain, batsman, bowler—will save West Indies cricket. I think I talked in that same interview about everybody pulling their weight. And it has to be everybody, on and off the field.
EB: Want to comment on Holder’s captaincy?
PP: What is there to say? You have to be impressed with the recent performance against England in the Tests but our problem continues to be inconsistency. I won’t be happy with the captaincy or with the team until we stop doing well sporadically and start beating the best teams in the world on a consistent basis.
And no captain, no matter how brilliant, can do that alone. (Chuckles) Ask Garry Sobers.
EB: Hahaha. We don’t have to go that far.
You summarized your own tenure at the helm thus: “Moderate success, devastating failures.”
Sobers disagrees with my view, expressed in this Wired868 series, that you were given the captaincy prematurely. In his 2002 autobiography, he says, “He should have been captain long before he was given the task.”
Do you think your teams might have done better if you had not been rushed into that position?
PP: Rushed? (His eyes are as big as saucers) I couldn’t disagree more. There’s no magic in cricket, Mr Best. How does the old saying go? You can’t make silk purses out of sows’ ears.
Just after I took my record back, Michael Holding asked me this: “So what now? 401 against Bangladesh?”
I replied that I’d like to see someone else get it. I said I wanted to see our team start scoring 400-, 500-plus on a regular basis, with contributions especially from the younger players.
We did get some of that sometimes. In 2003, we scored 418 in the fourth innings to beat Australia. Sarwan and Chanders got centuries. And Chris Gayle eventually got not one but two triple-centuries.
But the consistency problem remained. It remains up to today.
EB: Sobers also says this in the same place: “If I have a criticism it is that sometimes he doesn’t think as much as he should.” That ‘he’ is you. Interestingly, both Australia’s Ian Chappell and England’s Tony Greig agree you are “the number one player of his era”—but only when “his brain is in gear.”
PP: In that same chapter, Mr Best, Sobers writes that I need “to take his mind from the game now and again and concentrate when the time comes. Some of us need to be away from the game completely at times and not think, eat and dream about the game morning, noon and night…”
EB: Wow! You know the quote by heart?
PP: You want the page number? 279!
EB: Staying with Sir Garry, he writes this: “When I set my world record all those years before…”
PP: “…I received the key to Kingston and a ride home from the airport in a motorcade, both of which I was very pleased to have.” Page 277.
EB: You’re phenomenal, you really are.
PP: 277 is easy for me to remember…
EB: Just before that, Sobers also wrote that in 1994 you were “given all sorts of rewards, including airline travel, land and even a house by his government.”
Do you think that if the official response to your initial achievement had been a little more measured, the list of your so-called ‘indiscretions’ might have been shorter?
PP: We can discuss that until I’m 75 and still not know the answer. (Long pause) What I would say is this: If I knew then what I know now, today, on my 50th birthday, I would have done quite a few things differently. But the world does not work like that.
So I look back and I say to myself, “Hmmmm” and then I look forward with clearer eyes.
And, in the final analysis, that’s the best we can do, learn from History—capital H!—and from our personal history so as not to repeat our mistakes.
EB: Here’s what you said to an interviewer about 15 years ago: “Hopefully, at the end of my career, I’ll have a nice, simple life and something in the bank I can depend on.”
Your playing career is now well and truly ended. I look around me and I’m guessing that the ‘something in the bank’ box is ticked. But a nice, simple life? For batting’s Greatest Of All Time? Really?
PP: (Chuckles) You don’t give up, do you? Well, I give up. (He gets to his feet, offers a handshake.)
EB: Brian, thanks for being so forthright and so frank. I am truly grateful.
And I do give up sometimes so I’m going to give you the last word. Do you agree that the Prince of Port-of-Spain is batting’s Greatest Of All Time? One word.
PP: (hems and haws and then breaks into a wide, triumphant grin) Dunno.