The Last West Indian Hero?
Published: Sunday | November 26, 2006

They should have talked of cut and glance

described the dance

he did on such or such a day

on what green floor

on what astonished field

Instead, they said he was a gentle man,

praised him as a model for his race,

noted with aplomb he took his place

as Senator; a leader cherished

by his men, in friendship steadfast,

who, in spite of bitter recollection,

loved his country at last

Any clown can play the gentleman.

But who could time a ball so sweetly

or flick a wrist so strong, so featly?

Yet those who saw him in his day

have left the middled things to say -

the strokes, the swing, the easy stance

But I lay you odds (all death's a game)

that the God to who they commend his name,

that God remembers cut and glance,

designed, who knows, the deadly dance.

Edward Baugh, The Pulpit-Eulologists of Frank Worrell

He jigged forward, he rocked back, he danced down the pitch. He stroked, he hammered, he caressed. He drove elegantly, he pulled savagely, he cut delicately. He timed the ball beautifully, he threaded the gaps exquisitely, he cleared the fences effortlessly. He was majestic, glorious, magnificent.

I'm sure glad I stayed up to watch Brian Lara's 77-ball 100 on Tuesday morning. That 26-run Daniel Kaneria over was sheer bliss, a joy forever to treasure in my rocking chair days, God willing I get there. Cricket, lovely, cricket indeed. Bar a beautiful woman, has there ever been a sweeter sight than the prince in full flow?

Well maybe. Last November my piece on watching Lara elicited this reply from Dr. William A. Foster.

creating masterpieces

"But forgive me sir, you never saw Frankie Worrell. His bat was a brush in the hand of a painter creating masterpieces. Wisden put it this way, "For sheer beauty of stroke, no one in the history of the game can have excelled Worrell". Neville Cardus, the doyen of cricket writers allowed "He never made an ungrammatical stroke." He went on. "A Worrell innings knows no dawn: it begins at high noon." A lady on the way to the ballet in Trent Bridge stopped at the Test match in 1950. Worrell was in the midst of an unforgettable 261. At the end of the day, she tore up the tickets: she had seen her ballet. Lara and Nijinsky ... perhaps. But for poetry, music (violins and flutes, mind you) and song (vespers in the evening, nocturne at night) look no further ... Frank Mortimer Maglinne, batsman sublime."

Doubtless Professor Baugh would agree. And since I was never lucky enough to see Frank Worrell, who I am to say they are wrong? Yet Worrell made only 9 test centuries to Lara's 34 so far. While unlike those in Worrell's day, Lara's matches are televised worldwide. So even if the good doctor is right in giving Sir Frank visual pre-eminence, he will agree that Lara has played more great innings and been seen by more people.

Perhaps it's my West Indian sentimentality, but I've always felt cricket creates more lasting memories than other sports. And Orville Higgins, the Mutty Perkins of Jamaican sports talk shows, agrees for a variety of reasons.

One is the theatre-like setting that makes batsman and bowler seem almost performers under the stage spotlight. Then there is the ethos that judges not only on statistics, but also on style and correctness of form. In which other sport could an opponent say - as Herschell Gibbs remarked after Lara was dismissed for 209 against South Africa - "It was so great to watch, I was kind of sad to see him get out"?

And while tests can drag on, five days makes lengthy masterpieces possible. A spectacular Maradona or Pele goal provides seconds of ecstasy. A wonderful Lara innings is hours of delight. While for sustained drama and excitement, the 1960 tied test is beyond compare the greatest ball game ever played.

Finally there is language. No other game has such a broad vocabulary. Here are three randomly remembered phrases as evidence - gorgeous late cut, savage hook, creamy cover drive. And is it not true that the wider the palette of description, the nearer you are to art?

So here it is. Cricket the most artistic of mass spectator sports, test matches lasting longer than any other regular public event, and an unmatched resume of truly memorable innings - Sydney's 277, Sabina's 213, Kensington's 153, Antigua's 375 and 400- made with sui generis panache.


For superlative technique, athletic grace and precise footwork, Lara is surely unsurpassed, the equal of any Nureyev or Baryshnikov. And he has literally enchanted not merely millions but billions. Is it an exaggeration then to say that Brian Lara has given more aesthetic pleasure to more real time observers than anyone in history?

Yet national sportsman are more than just entertainers. They are the modern day equivalents of the champions of yore, who went forth to defend their country's honour. As George Orwell said, serious sport is war minus the shooting. Stadiums are the 21st century fields of battle, at least in lucky civilised nations.

For times have changed. No one would today think of celebrating war in poetry a la Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade with lines like "When can their glory fade? / O the wild charge they made! / All the world wondered. / Honour the charge they made".

Yet we in the West Indies have a long tradition of commemorating cricket heroes in song and rhyme. George Headley, Gary Sobers, Viv Richards and Brian Lara have all been immortalised in music, and justly so. How often they have fearlessly stood alone and fought to preserve the region's dignity with the mental toughness and physical courage of true warriors. They are our Achilles and Hector, our Horatio at the bridge, our Roland and El Cid.

They have also practically defined the concept of West Indianness with a uniquely Caribbean flair, exuberance and joi de vivre. And despite a hundred cable channels showing the NBA and English Premier League virtually non-stop, our cricketing legends still live on in the collective memory, providing the only real regional bond. Sobers and Richards and Lara are all most Jamaicans know of Barbados and Antigua and Trinidad.

Sobers came of age when Headley was retiring. Richards attained greatness in Sobers' autumn years. And Lara entered Test cricket just as Richards left. But who will take the place of Lara?

The Oldest Batsman

For over ten years he has almost single handedly kept West Indian cricket alive. More than once - such as Sabina in 1999 and Antigua in 2004 - he essentially brought it back from the dead. But though he may still be the greatest Test batsman in the world, at 37 he is also the oldest. And what will happen when he goes? For there seems no replacement on the horizon, no gifted young Windies bat with a touch of greatness destined to fill the master's boots.

So you cannot help but wonder. Is Brian Charles Lara the last West Indian hero?

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