Brian Lara: ‘West Indies have some of the best players, but talent is not everything’ | West Indies Cricket Team

IBrian Lara’s voice is filled with joy, but not the joy of a pure child. It sounds like a newfound happiness, amplified by the stinging pain of the past. “Young, inexperienced, written off,” Brian Lara yells in the commentary booth as Shamar Joseph, the irrepressible fast bowler with the damaged toe, celebrates with his teammates.

“This West Indies team can rise to the occasion today, West Indies cricket can rise to the occasion today.” They won their first Test match in Australia since 1997.

Lara’s responses were among the most emotional at the Gabba in January, with the big left-hander visibly moved by the surprise triumph. “When you’re in Australia, you understand there’s going to be a bit of arrogance (from the Australians),” he said. “On the last day, they felt it was going to be an easy task. I was just very proud of these young cricketers. It took us 27 years to win a Test match in Australia. I couldn’t be a happier West Indian.”

History matters to Lara, from his childhood in Trinidad, where he would collect books to accompany his bat, reading about regional icons: George Headley and Learie Constantine, the three Ws – Weekes, Walcott and Worrell – and Garfield Sobers. And it wasn’t just cricket. Lara, born seven years after Trinidad and Tobago gained independence, was well-informed about issues related to British rule.

“We learn a lot more about the history of England, not just on the pitch but off the pitch too. When you’re faced with that kind of situation and you’ve seen the battles of the past, you realise the importance of playing England in West Indies colours. It becomes a bit more than a cricket match.”

Lara’s coups against the English have made him a legend, forming the focus of his new autobiography, Lara: The Chronicles of EnglandIn April 1994 he broke Sobers’ record for the highest Test score with 375 against Michael Atherton’s team in Antigua. An unbeaten 501 for Warwickshire against Durham, a first-class record, followed a few weeks later. In April 2004 he punished Michael Vaughan’s team at St John’s with 400 not out.

The 375 was more impressive. “It was more scary, more emotional,” he said. “You have to understand that I’m 24 years old. I’m trying to impose myself.” Lara started the day undefeated on 320, the night ended without sleep, his restlessness forcing him to play a round of golf before breakfast. A pass down the middle of the field took him past Sobers’ 365, which prompted a fanatical invasion of the field.

A tribute to Brian Lara after his record-breaking 375 against England in Antigua in April 1994. Photography: Ben Radford/Getty Images

“Men lying on the grass, crying, screaming,” Lara recalls in his book. “Hundreds of them, all trying to make contact. Everywhere, there was commotion.”

Matthew Hayden scored 380 runs for Australia against Zimbabwe in October 2003, surpassing Lara. It took him six months to get back to the top, but reclaiming that record was not what drove Lara to do it. With England leading 3-0 in the series, his team needed to avoid embarrassment in the fourth Test.

“I had scored 100 runs in six innings, we had lost three Test matches. I was appointed captain for the second time in 2003 and that was my aim, to try to be a better captain than I was before. I didn’t have my mind set on that record.” But to beat it again on the same ground against the same opposition? “I completely believe it’s destiny.”

The book, which charts Lara’s international career from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, is particularly revealing of the formative years, which coincide with Viv Richards’s farewell. Lara was in fact his captain’s driver on the 1991 tour of England, ferrying a dozing Richards from ground to ground in a Vauxhall Calibra. It was a tough upbringing, full of bullshit and icy stares. Viv“Even though he had that fear, the next day he would find me right under his arm, because I knew how important it was to be close to someone like that, to learn from someone like that.”

“Everyone would love to see Nicholas Pooran in a Test match,” says Lara. Photography: Matthew Lewis/ICC/Getty Images

Lara would inherit Richards’ role as the team’s central figure, but individual talent would not bring him collective success. In 2004, England, sidelined in previous decades, were the dominant team, beating the West Indies in seven of the eight Tests that year. The pace and threat of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison reminded Lara of what his team had lost.

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“We lost sight of the ball,” he says. “We had the best team in the world for 15, maybe 20 years. The rest of the world was learning from us. They understood the importance of fitness because we were the fittest team in cricket in the 70s and 80s. They applied technology, tactical movements, created academies to get their players up to the level they needed.”

“We’ve continued on the path that natural talent is enough: the next Viv Richards is going to come around the corner, the next Curtly Ambrose is going to come around the corner. That’s not the case in cricket today. I still believe we have some of the best talent in the world, but talent is not everything.”

Lara sees “outstanding young fast bowlers” in Joseph, Alzarri Joseph and Jayden Seales but is concerned about the inexperience of the batsmen ahead of three Tests in England this month. He would pick a more aggressive team.

“Everyone would love to see Nicholas Pooran in a Test match. I don’t know if he’s been called up, I don’t know the situation. I would love to see a Shai Hope back in the West Indies team. But we have to play with what we have. And what we have is a bunch of young players who want to play for the West Indies, who want to play Test cricket. Hopefully their style will shine through and they can do well.”

Lara reflects on his own success. “I was supposed to keep the Antilles on top of the world and I didn’t succeed,” he writes in his autobiography. “I failed in my main objective.”

But all is not lost. “In my book, I also ask myself whether I entertained people,” he says. “If I couldn’t keep the Antilles at the top of the pyramid, at least I played a sport with people who came through the turnstiles to see me play. I want to know if I at least satisfied that aspect of it?”

The answer is obvious.

Lara: The Chronicles of England by Brian Lara (Fairfield Books, £25). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Also available at

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