Brian's dazzling diamond

 

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Category: Profiles Date: 19 Apr 04

 

Whether you're hooked by a quirk of fate or you're a diehard, flag-in-your-face nationalist, your heart swelled with pride at Brian Lara's spectacular performance in Antigua last week as he set the highest score ever in Test cricket, hitting 400 not out in the fourth Test against England.

 

If you're really into it you know that the West Indian captain, who holds the highest first-class score of 501 not out for Warwickshire, joined Australia's Don Bradman as the only man to score two Test triple centuries when he brought up his 300 off 406 balls with 34 boundaries and two sixes.

 

For Port of Spain-ites, the Brian Lara Promenade, the St Ann's house on the hill, are everyday reminders of his world mark of 375, scored on the same ground against the same opponents, before it was eclipsed by Australia's Matthew Hayden against Zimbabwe in Perth last year.

 

Even as we thump him on the back and congratulate him heartily, we claim his victory as ours. He is our Bri Bri, our very own star boy, and all past misdemeanours, real or imagined, have been wiped clean with his new world record.

 

"We knew he would do it" we think, conveniently ripping up critical clippings, forgetting those many conversations that questioned his dedication to the sport, called for his resignation, dissed him as a flash boy who chose partying to practice, who was too young to lead.

 

In a flash all has changed. "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world. But wait. We mustn't be surprised if our boy comes home and accepts our fawning blandishments which range from the bizarre (naming a helicopter after him) to the downright stupid (a national holiday--(I thought his victory celebrated excellence, not indolence) to millions of dollars in cash (does he really need charity?) with a little bit of bitterness in his heart. Mind you, he'll take whatever's offered, why not, but with a pinch of salt.

 

"Why?" you ask. "We criticise him when he's not performing, laud him when he does."

 

The one-word answer to that is "inconsistency".

 

The brief answer to that is that our response to his personal genius is a "flash in the pan", that we are fickle, untrustworthy fans.

 

The undeniable answer to that is England has already clinched the series after winning the first three games.

 

The thesis is that we haven't absorbed Thomas Edison's dictum: "brilliance is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration".

 

This brings us back to our one-word answer. Inconsistency. All round. Everywhere.

 

Meaning that, despite the fact of Lara's brilliance, West Indies cricket on the whole has long disintegrated from its glory days.

 

The curious among us want to dissect all that we marvel around us. Who wouldn't want to find out how the diamond which flashes its light in our generally dull, grey lives got there. We want to know. To see how it was done. To watch how it could be repeated. So the child takes apart a rose, petal by petal, to see what's underneath, a TV camera replays a winning pirouette, in slow motion, the exact angle of the footballer's leg, the trajectory of the winning goal. Mikes are thrust in the winner's face, in the coach's face. Parents are hunted out, as we look for signs that created the grandeur we have witnessed. So we look around the country of his birth.

 

Talent grows on trees here. Out of proportion to our size, to our population. In every sphere. Astonishing that we have had such close proximity to two Nobel Prize winners for Literature, that our designers win Emmys, that numerous athletes of ours crack world records, in swimming, in sprinting, in cricket.

 

Astonishing, even miraculous, when you think this talent rose out of a wasteland. Where half our people can't read, where 40 percent of our people are under the poverty line, where our schools churn out thousands of illiterates every year. Miraculous, when you consider that we have no "culture" of reading, few libraries, no academy of the arts, no national theatre, no consistently thought-out plan for talented young people to cultivate their sport of choice. No proper cricket school, no basketball school, no football school. We've built some impressive stadiums but they are shells, without the logistics and funding that would allow them to nurture our talented footballers who are sadly struggling even against our smaller Caribbean islands. Apart from those ghostly stadiums we have few facilities for athletes, no special coaches, no leadership that demonstrates that matches are won, world records are set, by putting in the practice, being disciplined, having a structure for young, talented kids to follow. Athletes like young Bovell have to get scholarships to train abroad, and when they win, if we are honest, it's a hollow victory. Where were we when they needed to train? Nowhere, clamouring for a public holiday.

 

So today we say to Brian Lara, congratulations. You demonstrated your genius, your skill, your talent. But you've done more, Bri Bri. You can, if you put the idea in our heads, help us create 20, 40, 60 talented cricketers--people who will, if not put down a 400-plus world record, consistently score 60, 70 runs per match. Many of us support a cricket academy which will do just that.

 

You gave us our diamond, Brian, and its brilliance blinded us for a moment, made us think what we were not, and made us think that one man could bear the burden of entire islands. Take it back. It's yours. Your victory. Until we support cricket (or any other area of endeavour) the way we ought to, we can't claim your victory as ours. When we can honestly say that we have a Brian Lara, yes, a man of such genius that he flourished out of a wasteland, but also admit that it doesn't change the fact that we lost the series, we will be walking towards consistency. The other side, the void of holidays, riches and helicopters, of deifying one man so we don't have to think of the rest, is the road to hell. And what is hell if not mediocrity?

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur