Book review: Brian Lara: The Steep Price of Greatness

Book review: Brian Lara: The Steep Price of Greatness

SEPTEMBER 8, 2013 | BY  |By Dr Glenville Ashby

Brian Lara: An authorized biography by James Fuller

James Fuller embarks on a literary journey that showcases 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 rivalries that are always tamed by the clarion call of “Rally round the West Indies.”

Book:  Brian Lara: An authorized biography by James Fuller 

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 rifle 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. 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.

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 recalled: “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 asked, “Gary Sobers’ record of 365 not out, how come it lasted so long.” After the explanation, he (Lara) said, “I’ll break that.”

And with a personal tally of 250 not out in a county match, Hanif Mohammed’s 499 was already in his cross hairs, as he went 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, and aloof – a distraction to team work. In fact, one sports journalist argued that “once Viv Richards is around, Lara wasn’t getting a run in the Test team because Richards recognised that…he wasn’t 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 that 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 simmer 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 a great player 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 by the media and besieged by endorsers, Lara whittled, serving notice of his early retirement after his highly successful 1994 season. Yet, his defenders were many, especially those who experienced first-hand his magnanimity, noting his establishment of a cancer foundation in his parents’ honour.

Lara encapsulated greatness with all its behooves and shortcomings. It’s a paradox that splits opinions, creating die hard supporters and naysayers. People are enthralled by over achievers but can be equally disdainful of undue braggadocio.

Despite all his accomplishments, Lara 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 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 though 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 WICB, Lara’s footprints on the sport are forever etched.

More importantly, though, is that he departed from the game, resolute and august, and with little signs of outward capitulation. Very much indicative of the complexity that accompanies greatness.

Feedback: him on Twitter@glenvilleashby
Lara: The unauthorized biography by James Fuller
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
ISBN 978-0-230-71559-2
Rating: Highly recommended

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