Open letter to Scyld Berry: does plucking feathers from Lara’s wing float your boat?

These growing feathers plucked from Lara’s wing

Will make him fly an ordinary pitch.

Who else would soar above the view of batsmen

And keep them all in servile fearfulness?

Dear Mr Scyld Berry,

Beriberi, on the slave ships that sailed to the Caribbean, was not very kind to our forefathers. So it may surprise no one with a sense of history that, in 2024, Scyld Berry is not very kind to one of our sons…

West Indies legend Brian Lara (left) gets a guard of honour by his teammates after his record 400 runs against England in Antigua on 12 April 2004.

In the wake of Brian Lara’s historic recapture of the world record in 2004, the Trinidad and Tobago Secondary Schools Cricket League had an interesting proposal. Had it been adopted, 8 April, the first Sunday in the week between 12 and 18 April, would have been publicly celebrated by the local media as Brian Lara Day.

But media behaviour in Trinidad and Tobago routinely attests to acceptance of the view that ours is a nine-days-wonder country. Even among media folk, there seems to be no more interest in history than there is in the Ministry of Education.

And so, the historic week which saw the 30th and 20th anniversary respectively of Lara’s first and second ascent of cricket’s Everest went by without fanfare.

Read it and weep…

In his hometown, the Prince of Port-of-Spain’s prestigious double achievement passed largely unmarked and unremarked.

But you, Mr Berry, full 20 years after the fact, you remembered the unbeaten 400—if only to record your own selfish reaction to a historic event!

Getting the Prince in your cross hairs, you gratuitously open fire, making no distinction between batsman Lara and captain Lara.

In the Selfish Lara piece, you call him, “without much question, (…) the most brilliant batsman of the post-war era, certainly among left-handers, and arguably the closest that any has come to genius.”

West Indies legend Brian Lara (centre) dispatches a delivery to the boundary during a historic Test innings against England at Antigua in 1994.
Lara broke the world record for the highest scoring individual innings for the first time, with 375 runs, in 1994.

He “was supreme against almost every type of bowling,” you add, “(…) has batted more brilliantly than (anyone) against the world Test champions Australia in early 1999 (…), (scoring) 688 runs in six innings of a series in Sri Lanka, dancing down the pitch as if it were Carnival in his native Trinidad.”

Moreover, the headline on your March 1999 story on a Lara double-century against Australia says “the innings reaches beyond perfection”. You write that it “fell below perfection only when he did not re-adjust to the second new ball”.

That and other repeated accolades underline your appreciation of not just the innings but the batsman.

West Indies cricket legend Brian Lara (left) on the go against Australia.
Photo: Sportskeeda

So, nowhere in your Selfish Lara story do you say you do not like the way the Prince plays. You clearly like batsman Lara. I know not one West Indian—Devon Malcolm?—who does not.

Nor one, for the record, who thinks Lara erred by not declaring. So answer me this: do you think that, with someone else as skipper, the declaration would have come earlier?

Richie Richardson, remember, not Lara, skippered the 375 team in 1994.

Then West Indies captain Richie Richardson (right) pulls fast bowler Curtly Ambrose (centre) away from Australia batsman Steve Waugh during an infamous confrontation at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain on 21 April 1995.

There is, however, a really important omission from your Selfish Lara story. It is a Lara story that should really be told and retold. And repeated every year in mid-April and whenever talk of Lara’s selfishness comes up.

David Plummer’s piece appears in the Guardian of 14 April 2004 under the headline “Hayden ‘knew Lara would beat record’”. Many can read it and not see the story. But it’s unmistakably there—albeit between the lines!

When Matthew Hayden scored 380 against Zimbabwe last October Brian Lara telephoned to congratulate him for beating his nine-year-old Test record of 375. Yesterday, after Lara celebrated an unbeaten 400 in St John’s, the Australian returned the favour.

Photo: Australia opening batsman and former world record holder Matthew Hayden.

“Breaking Brian’s record was one of the most memorable days of my cricketing life. But records are made to be broken and, as a batsman, I guess they can fall at any time.”

“I spoke to Brian over the phone and passed on my congratulations for what was a truly amazing effort. I wanted to let him know how appreciative I was when he contacted me in Perth, and I thought it was only appropriate that I pass on my own best wishes to him and his family.”

Read the statement again. Now ask yourself this single critical question: it took all of six months for Hayden to let Lara know “how appreciative I was when he contacted me in Perth”?

Photo: West Indies icon Sir Garry Sobers (left) celebrates with his successor, Brian Lara, after Lara broke his world record for the highest Test score by amassing 375 against England in Antigua on 16 April 1994.
(via Belfast Telegraph)

That question answered, ask yourself three more:

(1) Do you think Lara’s 400 record will be broken? (2) Did you think Hayden’s 380 record would be broken? (3) Do you think Hayden thought his record would be broken?

The good news, Mr Berry, is that currently on show—especially in the IPL—are several dashing types in the Hayden/Sanath Jayasuriya/Chris Gayle mould.

India batsman Yashasvi Jaiswal celebrates a century against the West Indies.

The impressive Yashasvi Jaiswal comes immediately to mind, his recent double-hundreds in successive matches perhaps a sign of things to come. But one can argue that, on the whole, the dashers thrown up by today’s white ball game are unlikely to have the staying power to get all to way to 400.

The race, the old adage says, is not for the swift…

Moreover, for all their obvious talent, none of Pakistan’s Babar Azam, India’s Virat Kohli, England’s Joe Root, Australia’s Steve Smith or New Zealand’s Kane Williamson has yet really threatened the daunting target.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam.

And Babar, the last of the quintet to come on the scene, has already been in the Test arena for all of 7½ years.

So, Mr Berry, sorry for you, Lara’s mark seems likely to prove unassailable…

…unless—presumably more bad news for you—India’s Cheteshwar Pujara, whose unbeaten 206 against England may attest to the presence of the temperament, makes an unlikely comeback. Or, worse, West Indians Kraigg Brathwaite or Tagenarine Chanderpaul has an extraordinarily successful four or five successive days.

West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite (left) and teammate Tagenarine Chanderpaul chase runs during a Test contest with India in July 2023.
(Copyright AFP/ Getty)

That thought must scare the crap out of you, Mr Berry.

Furthermore, Brathwaite, captains the team—and has, like Lara, a mind of his own. Not easy, history teaches, for First World critics to stomach.

By the way, Scyld, if you think WI care about your departure from the ARG before the end of the match, that’s probably just historical narcissism coming to the surface.

Photo: West Indian batsman Brian Lara kisses the ground after his record breaking 385 against England in Antigua on 12 April 2004.
Lara went on to post an unbeaten 400.
(Copyright AFP 2014/ Alessandro Abbonizio)
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