BRIAN Lara, the Trinidad and Tobago and West Indies batting hero, has given this country much to celebrate. From his stylish way of batting, match-winning performances and record-breaking innings, there's no doubt that Lara is one of TT’s sporting icons.
Lara, 53, had an appetite for batting and batting long. The former West Indies captain would stay at the crease for hours and it led to achievements that few sportsmen could dream of.
Lara, who grew up in Santa Cruz, joined Harvard Coaching Clinic as a youngster to develop his talent and later moved on to Queen’s Park Cricket Club.
Lara made his West Indies debut in 1990, but in April 1994 he became a household name.
At the Antigua Recreation Ground, he broke the Test batting record held by Sir Garry Sobers when he scored 375 against England. Sobers, a Barbadian and West Indies legend, had held the record since 1958.
Weeks later Lara created history again, playing for Warwickshire in English county cricket. He compiled a mammoth 501 not out to break Hanif Mohammed’s record of 499 for the highest first-class score.
In October 2003, Australian Matthew Hayden broke Lara’s record of 375 by scoring 380. But Hayden had little time to celebrate, as six months later Lara broke the Test batting record for the second time. At the Antigua Recreation Ground, again, Lara struck 400 not out against England. It is a record he holds to this day.
Former West Indies and TT opening batsman Suruj Ragoonath is just a year older than Lara. They have known each other since they played youth-level cricket and went on to play alongside each other for years on the national senior cricket team.
Reflecting on Lara’s numerous record-breaking innings, Ragoonath said, “Watching Brian Lara break those world records was just amazing…I remember when he broke the 501 first-class record I was at work at Angostura.”
Ragoonath said his supervisor let him stop working and listen to the historic moment.
Former TT and West Indies cricketer and Newsday columnist Bryan Davis first met Lara when he was coaching at Fatima College. Davis was coaching some of the older students, but heard about a talented player called Lara.
Davis said Lara always had an appetite for runs and from early on had his mind set on breaking records.
“We had a coaching session going on in the afternoon, and he said to me, ‘Mr Davis, how come that record that Gary Sobers has of 365 not out has been standing so long?’
“He said, ‘I want that record, you know.’”
Davis explained to Lara that many situations can prevent a batsman from scoring such a huge total.
Davis said most will just see the records and statistics of Lara, but his work ethic was like no other.
“Nobody knew how much Brian Lara used to practise. He will be here at 7 o’clock in the morning in the nets here (at the Queen’s Park Oval)…he just loved to bat.”
Davis said Lara would ask four or five friends to bowl to him.
“Inside of him he had a drive. He had a drive to make plenty runs.”
Ragoonath said, “He always wanted to be the best from a very early age something that most of us who played with him lacked. We were just contented with making a 50, but not Brian.”
Ragoonath also recalled a discussion in 1987 that demonstrated Lara’s hunger to be a great cricketer.
“At that time the much-touted (Roland) Holder was seen as the next star in West Indies cricket…Brian, sitting outside the gate at the Tragarete Road entrance (to the Queen’s Park Oval) said to me, ‘Ragoo, do you think Holder has anything on me?’
"I did not have to answer the question, because he went on to say, 'The only thing Holder can do better than me is hook.'”
Ragoonath said playing with or against Lara was memorable.
“It was just a pleasure to have played with Brian Lara, and even in games that we played against each other like North/South games, school games, trial games, it was always a thrill coming up against him because you knew that you were coming up against the best.”
Davis, reflecting on Lara’s contribution to TT, said, “I would put it as a ten out of ten. I believe that Lara’s contribution is global, worldwide.”
Davis said TT’s sporting heroes are not only admired by people in TT, but around the world.
In 1998, when he was on a tour to Australia with a Queen’s Park Cricket Club team, he had a conversation with two airport employees.
Davis said when he told them the team was from TT, one of them did not know of the country.
However, the other employee seemed to be a massive sports fan, and when he said Davis was from the same country as Lara, TT football legend Dwight Yorke and track and field great Ato Boldon, the employee who was uncertain where TT was on the map quickly made the connection.
Davis is satisfied that Lara has been recognised by TT.
“The Brian Lara Cricket Academy, the Brian Lara Promenade, a statue of Brian Lara (on the promenade), the Brian Lara Pavilion at the Queen’s Park Oval – and there have been many things like that to recognise him.
"He is well-recognised. Anywhere you go, you could hear Lara’s name,” Davis said.
“Brian Lara’s contribution to TT is immense,” Ragoonath said.
“He has put TT on the map in a very indelible manner. He has brought great recognition to the country because he is renowned internationally the world over, Brian Lara is a global superstar.”
Ragoonath said Lara is an “excellent ambassador.”
“He would have done a huge amount in terms of contributing to TT and creating greater awareness of us as a nation and as a people and what we are capable of.”
Lara retired from international cricket in 2007.