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The steep price of greatness - Brian Lara - An unauthorised biography
Author: James Fuller
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
James Fuller, for all intent and purpose, embarked on a literary journey showcasing the unfathomable prowess of Brian Lara, one of the most celebrated batsmen of the modern era. His unauthorised autobiography is detailed and balanced.
It chronicles the rise of the cricket superstar from a prodigious, overly confident lad in his hometown of Cantaro, to a record-breaking phenomenon. And, for good measure, he taps into festering inter-island rivalry when the marginalisation of a player is perceived.
However, what eventually surfaces from Fuller's work is a psychoanalytic and psychodynamic glimpse into the mind of greatness. Sure, it is all well and good to marshal through Lara's career with awe. The concentration, the mental and physical stamina, his resolve, and prophetic musings are well documented. Fuller pens a laudable, if not flawless presentation of the Trinidadian's heroics. But what stands out above all is Fuller's exploration of greatness concomitant with the fragility of a mind grappling with the pressures of adulation and criticism.
No doubt, Fuller did his homework, interviewing Lara's Cantaro neigbours who recalled the young Lara's proclivity for the spectacular. That he was a natural is debatable. Then again, the axiom that greatness is born hardly explains the long, arduous hours of practice, the ingenious props used to hone his batting skills, the technical guidance of coaches at Harvard and Queens Park cricket clubs, and the unswerving support and encouragement of his father and the sagacious Joey Carew.
Nurtured or gift?
Is greatness nurtured or is it a gift bestowed by providence? Lara proved himself a student of the game and also a historian with a peerless mind for enquiry. His steely determination not to capriciously lose his wicket was evident even at the pedestrian level of the game. He recalls: "When I played in my backyard, I would bat for a week sometimes ... if my mates didn't get me out on one day, I would carry on batting the next."
In one indelible exchange with Brian Davis, he asks, "Gary Sober's record of 365 not out, how comes it lasted so long." After the explanation, he (Lara) said, "I'll break that."
Well into his career, and with a personal tally of 250 runs in a county match, Hanif Mohammed's 499 was already in his cross hairs, going on to score the first quintuple century. Later, he summoned an unyielding will to reclaim his record for the most runs in Test cricket. Greatness constitutes, among other elements, supreme assuredness of one's ability. Great men and women are determined, obdurate, pugnacious and ever ready to hoist all responsibilities on their shoulders.
Some deride such posturing as cocky, arrogant, aloof and a distraction to teamwork. In fact, one sports journalist argued that "once Viv Richards is around, Lara was not getting a run in the Test team because Richards recognised that ... he was not a team player," that "he wanted to do well for himself first and foremost and Richards didn't want that."
Although this was disputed, self-centeredness dogged Lara for years. In fact, Lara hinted as much giving fodder to his detractors, "I have got to ensure that the team benefited from my batting now ... in the past, you wanted to maintain yourself as the best batsman in the world ...".
True or not, it is undeniable that in any situation where a unique talent emerges, more experienced personnel bristle, become self-conscious, concerned about being upstaged. Envy simmers and efforts are contrived to stymie, to undermine the newcomer. But destiny is never trumped by the wiles of men. Scurrilous attacks have been levelled against many great players in every sport. Lara became the target of an investigation regarding the damning allegation of match fixing, which proved unsubstantiated.
In the world of entertainment, business and technology, visionaries are praised but also maligned for their so-called personality defects. Many also succumb to fame. It's a tragic reality. It's the Jekyll-and-Hyde fabric of stardom that touched young Lara. Pulled by the demands of the game, hounded and scrutinised by the media and besieged by endorsers and mindful of the high standards expected of him, Lara whittled, serving notice of his early retirement after his highly successful 1994 season. Yet, his defenders are many, especially those who experienced first-hand his magnanimity, noting his establishment of a cancer foundation in his parents' honour.
Lara encapsulates greatness with all its behoofs and shortcomings. It's a paradox that splits opinions, creating diehard supporters and naysayers. People are enthralled by overachievers, but can be equally disdainful of undue braggadocio.
Not that Lara should be in the latter category. He was raised with a sturdy hand by both his parents. And that goes a long way in moulding an individual. But the stress of superstardom can turn the finest of nurturing on its head. And Lara, despite all his accomplishments, showed signs of cracking under pressure. With the walls closing in, many speculated that the loss of his father - his very compass - left him vulnerable. Calypso legend David Rudder was on to something when he offered his analysis: "Everyone in Trinidad and Tobago needs someone to not just look up to, but to hold on to because it's a small society. When he became the Brian Lara I thought, 'Uh-oh, they are going to grab on to him now'. It's that extraordinary level of expectation and if you don't handle it you can buckle."
But the reality was that Lara's stock rose beyond the shores of the Caribbean, adding an even greater burden on his psyche.
Despite his mediocre run at the helm of the once-indomitable West Indians, his more human performances with the bat and his wrangling with the West Indies Cricket Board, Lara's footprints on the sport are forever etched.
More important, though, is that he departed from the game, resolute and august with little sign of outward capitulation the epitome of the complexity that accompanies greatness.
Rating: Highly recommended
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