Brian Lara - a blade apart
The Nation newspaper published this article on March 30, 1993 and my column has appeared in that paper, the Trinidad Express, the Jamaica Gleaner and the Kaieteur News since then. My readers and I throughout the Caribbean and the diaspora have now headed into our 23rd year together. In this article, a year before Brian Lara broke the batting record set by Sir Gary Sobers, I predicted that he would. Blades have changed a lot since then, of course, but perhaps that would be my next article.
Brian Lara had struck again - not just form, not just fours, but another century. And if I did not hurry to the office, the boss would think that I too had struck - and like the Star Wars Empire (or the New Zealand umpires, beloved of Michael Holding) would strike back.
Even as I lathered up, getting ready to shave, the cricket and Lara were still on my mind. Perhaps I should write something, I thought. Should I write about the sound of sweetly timed shots and call it Lara's Theme? Or of passing Sir Gary's record 365 runs and call it Lara's Dream?
If he eventually (or inevitably) becomes West Indies captain, would it be Lara's Team and would he, the 'Prince' of Port-of-Spain, become the Prince of Sides? (The real Prince of Tides is an oyster-man in Orange Valley, Central Trinidad).
Razor in hand, I mused some more. Why are cricket bats referred to as blades? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that cricket, like so many of our other sports, is essentially a war game, a surrogate for our atavism, a release for our hostility, replacing armed combat between tribes and nations. If the bat is a blade and our batsmen are swordsmen, how do they compare with the Knights of old?
We have Sir Gary and Sir Frank, but what about our other cricketing lords and knights? Where are our Gawains and our Lancelots? Who is Mordred or more dread? Is Brian our new Arthur and are we creating a cricketing Camelot? If this is so, what blades have our heroes wielded or wield now?
Undoubtedly, Gary Sobers would have batted with Excalibur, the most famous sword of the lot. Seymour Nurse's blade would be a 'cutter' (also Barbadian for 'sandwich') and on his day, off his back-footed best, he did not 'eat nice' at all.
Gordon Greenidge would have a 'collins' ('lens' for short), the preferred weapon of Bajan cane cutters (and bandits) with its wickedly sharp blade on one side and a curved hook on the other side - cutting or hooking Gordon levelled any opposition.
The bludgeoning Viv Richards would have an executioner's sword with a two-handed grip like the ones used by the Samurai - sharp, merciless and (on the heads of his opponents) severe. Richardson, who has cut down to size the teams of every cricketing country, would use a scythe, with its slightly curving hook. At his best, he is indeed a scythe for sore eyes, a beauty to watch, incomparable. The hook is both his strength and, many times, his downfall.
Desi Haynes, like Coach Kanhai before him, seems to be on a second career, a kind of Trac Two, moving from pure attacking to a judicious mix of defence and attack, sheet-anchoring major West Indies innings. The bat of the diminutive Gus Logie would be a 'bayonet' or short-sword beloved of the hard-slogging infantry in all-out attack.
The smouldering Simmons stands like the Sword of Damocles, a constant threat - deadly if ever he bursts the slender thread and tension holding him back. What about the other great batsmen of the world? Tom Graveney, who in the twilight of his career was able to take apart our fearsome duo of Hall and Griffith, undoubtedly used a halberd, a fearsome combination of spear and battle-axe.
Colin Cowdrey had a 'pike', an infantry weapon that was replaced by a bayonet. Pike also means 'to withdraw timidly from', which is what happened to him when he faced Hall and was clean-bowled retreating almost to where the square-leg umpire stood.
Gavaskar, the 'Little Master' used a scalpel, and Haniff Mohammed, the great Pakistani batsman, a scimitar, the sharp, curved sword of the east. Ian Chappell would use a 'chopper' and Javed Miandad, a sabre-sharp and deadly as the teeth of the sabre-toothed tiger of old and as 'cheeky' as the scars left by sabres on the faces of German duelists.
Old movie fans might think of the hard-hitting, match-winning Imran Khan as 'The Saracen Blade'. Wasim Akram, with his prominent proboscis, can be likened to the great swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac. The swashbuckling, one-eyed, piratical Colin Milburn would have used a cutlass. Alan Border, with his upright stance, would use a 'kris', a wavy blade.
Remember Larry Gomes and his dirk or dagger - no big, flashing blade but a 'chooker'? The great Lawrence Rowe, who developed an allergy to grass (on the cricket ground), in his heyday had a sickle - what is called a grass knife - his shots cutting through the turf with tremendous timing. The hard-hitting Bajan all-rounder, Tony White, struck some huge sixes. His bat would be like an old-fashioned straight razor- white-handled, of course. Andy Ganteaume, who scored a century in his debut Test match and was never selected again, must have used a disposable.
But what would Lara use? What would be his blade, his choice of weapon? As I put aside my razor and look outside, the supersonic Concorde is descending at the Grantley Adams Airport, smoothly cutting through the clouds. That is the kind of blade he would have - high-tech, soaring through the skies - like the Stealth-Bomber, virtually unstoppable and merciless in execution. I have it - smooth, sensitive, sharp - the latest, literally on the cutting-edge. Lara's blade has to be the new Gillette Sensor.
- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that considering how he was bowled behind his back by Aamer Sohail, Lara must never forget his Right Guard.