On April 21, 2007 Brian Lara walked on the cricket field for the last time donning West Indies colours, bringing to an end a 17-year career in whch the left-hander treated the world of cricket with his spectacular array of strokes. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the West Indian’s final One-Day International match.
Kensington Oval was full. Finding that comforting extra inch in the stands was a challenge. West Indies were locking horns with England in the Super Eights. It was one final appearance of Brian Charles Lara — the talismanic southpaw who had insatiable run hunger and one who exemplified courage.
Every person in the ground had their “Brain Lara moment”. Lara — the joy emanating West Indian magician had scripted monumental essays which look impregnable. Scoring 501 in a First-Class game was colossal. The innings of 400 in 2004 against England, who had also suffered at his hands a decade ago when he became highest scorer in Test history, scoring an epic 375. Who could forget the gigantic effort of 153 against Australia in 1999? The prestidigitator was now attending his final day in the office.
England won the toss and elected to bowl. West Indies openers Chris Gayle and Devon Smith put on 131 for the first wicket. When Gayle was dismissed for a 58-ball 79, loud cheers went up. It was partly because of Gayle’s fine attacking knock, but the actual reason for the merriment was because Lara was walking on the field wielding his willow for ‘one final time’. The stage was set for a Lara special. England gave Lara a guard of honour. They applauded, yet, expected to get him out early. Sport often is an embezzled metaphor for war. But during such occasions the beauty of it is perceived.
Lara kickstarted his innings with a vintage square-drive off Andrew Flintoff. That had trademark Lara’s grace. The shot may have turned the clock for cricket aficionados. Lara’s next boundary was a fine flick. It was all too easy for him. Lara would have hit a four off that ball even at 80. The third boundary was an impetuous glide through ‘keeper Paul Nixon and wide second slip Andrew Strauss.
In the 31st over of the innings, Marlon Samuels became the most hated man in the Caribbean. He hit Stuart Broad towards mid-on and called Lara for a single. But, having realised that he had hit the ball too hard, Samuels changed his mind mid-way. Lara was out run-out. Sport often has a cruel way to say goodbye to its most revered servants. Don Bradman was out for a duck, which epitomised a fact about how cricket is a great leveller. At Kensington Oval, Lara’s premature exit was sheer bad luck. As he was walking towards the dressing room, the world wonders what might be going through his mind over the run-out.
West Indies scored 300 off their 50 overs. England’s run-chase was controlled by Michael Vaughan’s 79 and Kevin Pietersen’s fifth One-Day International hundred. The match was going one way or the other. The match reached its climax. England needed four off the final over. Dwayne Bravo got it down to two off two. Lara addressed his final gesture in international cricket. He got the field in. Broad peppered the off side field taking the aerial route and winning the game for England.The spotlight shifted to Lara. He thanked the crowd for all their support. In the post-match presentation Lara said: “I’ve had a tremendous time playing for West Indies … my dream was to see West Indies cricket stay on top and not doing that has been the most disappointing thing.” And finally he had the crowd shouting when he asked them “”Did I entertain?” There was a huge roar from each and every person. As Lara stepped down from the podium, the sun had set on West Indies cricket. Darkness pervaded at the Kengsinton Oval. Was there going to be light at the end of the tunnel?
West Indies 300 in 49.5 overs (Chris Gayle 79, Devon Smith 61, Marlon Samuels 51; Michael Vaughan 3-39) lost to England 301 for 9 in 49.5 overs (Kevin Pietersen 100, Michael Vaughan 79, Paul Nixon 38) by 1 wicket.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)