“I want everybody to know that on Saturday I'll be bidding farewell to international cricket as a player. I've already spoken to the board and my players.” With these words, a batting colossus announced his retirement from all international cricket today. Saturday’s match in Barbados against the old enemy will be his last. Before the World Cup began, I had hoped to see him lift the trophy on April 28th (I knew it would require a miracle but one can still wish!) and then end his career on a high on the tour to England. It wasn’t meant to be.
Lara is a man who evokes extreme emotions in West Indians. There are people who hate Lara and nothing he does is ever right. Then there are others for whom Lara can never do any wrong. I like to see myself in the middle. I will never blame Lara for the ills that have befallen our cricket. He is just one man in a team of eleven and for most of his career he has been the only batsman (besides Chanderpaul) worthy of wearing the maroon cap. Those who attack Lara as if their life depend on it conveniently ignore the real reasons behind our failure- a complete failure of the administration of the game in the region combined with a general change in attitudes and behaviour of young people. Lara however has his faults and captaincy was not one of his strong points. Many a time he made questionable decisions on the field and those who adulate him refuse to acknowledge this. They also refuse to admit that at some points in his career he acted like a prima donna and as if he was above the rules.
At the end of the day though, Lara was a genius playing in a team of mediocre and often time poor sportsmen. For over a decade he carried the weight of the West Indies and his retirement is our loss. I am sure that if the West Indies miraculously starts doing well, his detractors will say I told you so. If the West Indies keeps declining (is it possible to go any lower?) they will say that he destroyed West Indian cricket beyond repair. Lara, as the saying goes, just cannot win. I will cherish the memories of Lara’s many great innings, from his 277 and 375 to his 153 and 400 and everything in between and after; for me he will always be one of the greatest batsmen to ever walk this earth, better than Tendulkar and better than Ponting! What I have also always admired about him is that despite being faced with criticism for his entire career, he has rarely ever hit back, instead letting his bat speak for him. I look forward to reading his memoirs and to hearing the story from his point of view.
As for Saturday, it will be fitting for him to end on a high. A century against those English whingers, one last time, for us the fans, at the home of West Indian cricket, Kensington Oval!