Brian Lara, modern era's greatest left-handed batsman, must be the happiest cricketer now. The cricket world knows the trials and tribulations of this gifted West Indian sportsman during the second half of this decade. He became the captain of the West Indies amidst a considerable degree of controversy that reached the climax in the 1998-99 season.
Before the start of the West Indies' tour of South Africa, Lara turned rebellious and the tour itself looked a non-starter. Things were sorted out and the tour was on. But Lara emerged as the tragic hero of that Series as his team was outplayed in all departments of the game. Lara's stature in world's cricket itself was terribly shaken after that disastrous tour. But the West Indies Cricket Board kept Lara's crown in tact for the home Series against Australia. Lara, like most genius, rose to occupy the throne reserved for him.
Yes with a double century followed by two centuries in the Test Series Lara was back in business, so to say. Lara was after all facing an unenviable challenge. The big names of the game from the West Indies have vanished. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, despite their age, were the lone assets of Lara. Walsh and Ambrose, in their mid30s, continue to delight the spectators all over the cricket world with their ability to maintain an incredible physical-mental coordination. But no team could depend entirely on two famous fast bowlers and a great batsman (Lara) in an effort to make a mark in World cricket.
Carl Hooper, a remarkable cricketer, chose to retire just before the World Cup 99. That, naturally, aggravated Lara's problems. So he had to take a young inexperienced side to the World Cup 99. That team did not do much to impress in the World Cup. Of course, encouraged by the presence of Walsh and Ambrose, the bowling department did an admirable job in the Cup championship. The idea of playing four fast bowlers (Walsh, Ambrose, Reon King and Mervyn Dillon) would have brought the desired result if only Lara was blessed a strong batting line-up. Thus at the start of the current season (1999-2000), avid followers of the game focussed their attention on Lara's men.
Will the calypso cricketers who had entertained spectators all over the world for several decades regain their special status in World Cricket? No one would love to be in Lara's famous pair of shoes for obvious reason. But the little giant won the first round of the season at Singapore. Involving India, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, a Challenge Cup Series was organised there from Sept 2 to 8. Lara's men took home the Cup much to the delight of the ardent followers of the game.
It was a convincing Cup triumph for Lara's team. After a long period a West Indian side clicked as a side and the credit should go to the skipper. Lara's theme was to attack with four pacemen and two spinners (left-handed Jimmy Adams and off spinner Nehemiah Perry) mainly to maintain a reasonable over-rate. The fielding abilities of the team members have progressed to extraordinary level.
That must have served as a great source of inspiration to Lara. Sherwin Campbell, Ridely Jacobs, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ricardo Powell and the ever-reliable Jimmy Adams all showed considerable signs for having settled down to form a formidable top-order batting line-up. Lara, of course is the leader of that line-up. He, with comfort, underlined his mastery in this Series.
However, the aspect that must have pleased Lara immensely was the assurance given by the top-order batsmen during the Singapore meet. The most magnificent of them all was Ricardo Powell who with a scintillating 124 in 93 balls authored a memorable four-wicket win in the final against India.
Even Perry, supposed to be a tail-ender, exhibited his batting prowess in no uncertain terms in the final. In fact his spirited display (118 runs for the fourth wicket with Powell) served as the much-needed rhythm to the match-winning association. So the all-round brilliance of his team must have made Lara proud at the start of the season. Now Lara and his men go over to Toronto.