In the early 2000s I got my first mobile phone. Thanks to a well-placed uncle I was given a choice of number. The first two digits were fixed but I could take anything I wanted for the last three. I chose 375. Then the highest Test score, registered by a wiry West Indian left-hand bat.
At the time no batsman was top of the mind and more inspirational than Brian Charles Lara. The young whippersnapper killed fast bowling with rasping cuts and audacious pulls, but he was equally good against spin.
No West Indian batsman has used his feet to waltz down the track and loft the ball into the stands as Lara did. While Sachin Tendulkar may have been the best batsman around, Lara was the most watchable.
That high back lift, the flourish of bat hitting through the line, the swivel on the pull, he was an elemental force. Watching Lara in full cry gave youngsters such as me a window into what the great Garry Sobers would have played like.
And then, there was a press conference scheduled in Delhi where Lara would speak to journalists, promoting the Angostura brand, who had supported him for years, from when he was a teenager.
We sat around a table and drank rum. This was an interaction like no other.
What did Lara think of Twenty20 cricket?
“I’m very happy to have played as many Tests as I have because I don’t think it’s ever going to be the same in the future. For me as a young man, exercising my talent and expressing myself on the field, that was the stage I wanted to perform on. In saying that you can’t take anything away from Twenty20. This is the twentieth century and this is a format for the times,” said Lara. “It brings in a different sort of crowd and there’s no cricket game that lasts this length of time – three-and-a-half hours. I appreciate the fact that it brings something to the table.”
Lara, who turned out in the Indian Cricket League, banned by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, rather than the Indian Premier League, was perfectly sanguine about what the future held. “As long as there are opportunities and your services can be utilised in different directions then you’re going to be a wanted player. If something’s happening in the middle of a domestic season in West Indies and players are going off to play in a league in India that’s because there are opportunities. In a way it does give the player more power but I don’t know if that’s the right word.,” said Lara back then. “In soccer there are so many leagues, and you could be playing in England one day and the next day in Spain and there’s no stigma there. The most important thing for cricket is that international cricket and first-class cricket have to meet at the same level. That’s when cricket will become strong. And leagues like this will help that. The disparity between international cricket and domestic cricket is so huge and you had a monopoly situation where you had to playing for Trinidad and then West Indies – or India or Australia – to be actually worth anything. Now they’re bridging the gap and players have more opportunities.”
He knew what he was talking about, cricket’s Prince Charles.