Monday, April 23, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss -- Brian Charles Lara

When I was a kid, me and my father would talk about Cricket a lot. He would recount more than once the match where Viv Richards made his debut and Chandra had him out in both innings which left Richards absolutely bamboozled. This is of course well documented but the reason me and my brother remember it so very fondly is because when he would talk of Chandras bowling, my fathers face would undergo a beautiful transformation. It would seem that he went backward in time and he would look like a 20 year old watching the greatest leg spinner of his era bowl to the greatest batsman of his era. I hope that 20 years down the line when I talk about Brian Laras batting to someone, I hope, no I am sure they would say the same thing can be observed in my visage.

There were two cricketers whom I would never tire of watching, one Brian Lara bat and the other Wasim Akram bowl. There was something totally out of this world, almost divine when they would play in the whites.

Maybe some other day we will talk about one half of the Sultans of Swing but this is about Brian Charles Lara the prince of Trinidad. Arguably the greatest test batsman of the past 20 years he almost seemed to reserve his best knocks for the best opposition of our time Australia. It all started with that stupendous knock of 277 at the SCG (He has named his daughter Sydney in memory of that knock).

Watching him play then it seemed every ball went precisely where he wanted it to go. As Ian Healy on commentary once remarked the only way he could have gotten out was by getting run out and that is what precisely happened. And then again in the 1998-99 when the Aussies came visiting. Down 1-0 in the series and 37 for 4 at the end of the first day, Lara proceded to play the sort of knock that only he can conjure. Result Australia loose by 10 wickets narrowly avoiding an innings defeat.

And then followed it up with an excellent 153 on the final day of the third test for WI to go up 2-1.

Finally an innings I watched live in Adelaide, November 2005. After scratching around for the first two matches Lara just turned it on in the first innings in Adelaide, a scorching knock of 226. After pulling Brett Lee to the mid wicket fence for four to bring up his double hundred, he square drove through the covers for four. There were two fielders on the fence one in front of square and another behind square and he threaded it perfectly.

He reserved some special treatment for the English as well, setting the record for the highest runs in an innings by a batsman not once but twice. His 375 was scored over the first 3 days of the test match. In the 4th session of the match it became apparent that Lara was going to overtake Sir Gary Sobers record, it was fated. What else can you say but that when Lara pulled Lewis to overtake 365 his right foot flicked the stumps yet the bails did not fall off. And then again another innings that I watched live, his 400. Perhaps the shot to overtake Hayden was the best, 2 steps down to Gareth Batty and the ball is soaring well over the long on ropes.

He would raise his level whenever he played against the great bowlers (perhaps one of the reason he did not have a great record against India). In the 2001 tour to Sri Lanka he scored 688 runs in 6 innings including one double hundred and two hundreds on some of the most viciously turning tracks against the best off spinner ever Muthiah Muralitharan. And he still ended up on the side that got whitewashed 3-0.

His handling of the spinners was probably the way god would play the spinners if he was a batsman. Clobbering Robin Pietersen for 28 runs in one over, that too the penultimate over of the day, setting a record for the most runs scored in one over. Yet again in 2006 leaving Danish Kaneria rue the day he decided to become a leggie, when he was hit for 3 sixes and two fours in one over. In the champions trophy sweeping Hogg square bisecting the gap between deep backward square and the sweeper on the leg side. Ponting decides to get the deep backward square in front of square and he promptly sweeps him fine this time making the short fine leg and the square leg fielder run after the ball.

There are a lot of comments about the "Spirit of Cricket" going on and no one epitomises it the way Brian Lara did. He has walked since he played cricket and does not make the big noise that Mr Adam Gilchrist does (and he does not always walk, only when he knows that the remaining six can do the job). Remember the 1994 tour of WI to India and Lara was playing on 91, fast approaching his maiden hundred against the Indians. He nicks one behind to Mongia off Raju that probably other than him only Mongia would have heard. By the time the Umpire decided he was out, Lara was well beyond the inner circle on his way to the pavilion.

Someone once remarked "There is nothing better than watching a cover drive in cricket", well we would say "There is nothing better than watching Brian Lara drive the ball through covers". Almost every shot of his had a magical quality to it, the square drive played off the back foot, the flick through fine leg or the pull in front of square. Even when he would leave balls outside the off stump you would think man that was not merely a well-left but a dismissal of the ball that it is not even worth any attention. There is a sense of heightened anticipation when his bat has that high backlift and he crouches ever so slightly, almost like a spring that is coiled and ready to unleash its full force. One has to see it to beleive it.

No piece on Lara is complete without a comparison with Sachin. My take Sachin is the solid, dependable, safe Mercedes while Lara was the Ferrari. Not the best car in all situations but "My god what a drive it is gonna be ?", let us rest it at that.

He played at a time when West Indies cricket was at its downswing and seems fast headed for the absolute pits. For all his brilliance he was unlucky in that he had such a weak team and for a batsman to have scored so many runs and yet win so few trophies leaves one thinking that life is very unfair. If ever there was one batsman who deserved to play in a stronger team theres none worthier than Brian Charles Lara. It really was an inheritance of loss. Much like his last ODI match which the WI lost by one wicket and a ball to spare, Lara's career will also have that tinge of disappointment at achieving it all and yet not achieving all.

Maybe Kipling was thinking of Lara when he wrote:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

Monday, April 09, 2007

Statistically Speaking

We were at a friends place over the long weekend.

Now M is one of those guys like Ranjan the Boxer here (do read his latest post), who first went through the hallowed halls of IIT Madras followed by the no less sacred place known as IIM Cal.

And as it turns out M's parents now feel he is ready to get settled down and should be married off suitably.

What is the hitch ? Well M does not want to. Now he being a IIT+IIM guy came up with what I would call a brilliant strategy.

He told his parents since he is so intellectually dumb (or advanced as the case maybe) he wants someone equally dumb from the other species a.k.a a bandi who has also been affixed with the tag "IIT+IIM".

Why is this brilliant strategy ? Lets analyze:

M passed out in 2001 from IIT and his parents don't want him to marry anyone older than him. So that means that we basically have bandis from 2002-2004 batches qualifying for his hand. (Another qualification was that she needs to be working so that rules out the batch of 2005 that passes out in 2007 from IIM)

Now there were 20 bandis in my IIT. So 7 IIT's put together that is 140 every year.

2002-2004 gets us to 420.

Now about half of them write CAT. That is 210.

About one in 10 get through so 21 is the number we end up.

Since most bandis anyhow get hitched up in IIT or IIM lets assume even in the best case half of them are stll single. That leaves 10.

And the parents want to be sure she is from the same state etc etc which means that that 10 would probably come down to one.

And what are the odds that the horoscopes match: close to zilch.

Seems that IIT+IIM has helped M in at least something.

Though the point is debatable whether M will ever get married if he keeps such strict entry criterion and if he does manage to do so, whether it will in anyway help anything.

P.S : Something by Mark Twain that the Indian Cricketers (esp the senior ones Sachin/Saurav) might need to be told the next time they play:

"It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that counts".