He is generally regarded as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. To his legions of fans, Brian Lara is perhaps the greatest batsman of all time. Even in retirement, the West Indian legend remains a crowd-pulling star.
In an interview, Lara talked about a variety of issues, including the next year’s World Cup and whether Pakistan have any chance of winning it. Here are some excerpts.
The News on Sunday: The World Cup is not very far. Which teams you see as favourite?
Brian Lara: (When) the last World Cup was played in Australia, Pakistan won. Pakistan will be without the likes of Wasim Akram and Imran Khan — they are not the same team. But I believe any team can win a World Cup. You have to, maybe, give the edge to Australia and South Africa teams which can play in most conditions. So I would say those teams have good chances.
TNS: You spoke about Pakistan. Their key bowler Saeed Ajmal is doubtful because of the ICC suspension and they are also struggling in batting. Would you still consider the side as the potential one?
BL: They are always the dark horses. They are a team which before the events you wouldn’t have as one of the favourites but they seem to pull out something every single time and you must give credit to them. Yes, they are without Ajmal as of now, I don’t know if he is out of the World Cup and that’s a big blow. But if you are talking about a country, (then) you can never write any side off.
TNS: India will be defending their title and they are enjoying a good ODI form. How do you see their chances?
BL: Their players are getting little bit more equipped to handle any conditions around the world. So again it’s a team you can’t write off. They are the defending champions and Dhoni and his boys are not going to give up easily. It’s going to be a competitive World Cup. Any of the handful teams can win. I am from the West Indies and I believe Dwayne Bravo and his boys can also pull off. The likes of Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, all these guys are still around. You can’t really write off a few teams.
TNS: Coming to ICC’s action on chucking, recently a Pakistani coach questioned the timing of the crackdown on bowlers with suspect action. How do you see ICC’s initiatives in this regard?
BL: I am not going to comment on these because I am not too much into these rules. But ICC has got a job to do, keep the integrity of the game and that’s important. We just have got to accept those facts.
TNS: You seem distanced with cricket and much more interested in golf. What are your current roles?
BL: I am an ambassador for my country, sports and tourism. So I travel promoting my country, which is a job and I don’t always play golf. But that’s my job, get people to travel Trinidad and Tobago, and I make lots of appearances. But I do play golf as leisure as I do love the sport.
TNS: What are the reasons do you think the West Indies are not clicking as a unit?
BL: First of all, the environment when the players play for West Indies is different to when they play for other teams. The professionalism — when they play at IPL or in England, you can see they play better cricket. Back in the Caribbean you can see it has not clicked because I don’t believe the (right) infrastructure is there. We may have best or the most sought after players in the World, but when they come as one it hasn’t clicked. I really don’t blame them. Yes they are professionals and you expect them to play at certain level but I think they are sold on to certain level.
TNS: Is there any solutions to the problems being faced by the West Indies cricketers?
BL: Yes. We got to go back and do some homework and hopefully we can get the result in 5 to 10 years’ time. You (are) seeing a team which is inconsistent and you wonder why because there is so much talented players. We always have talent in the West Indies, the best talent in the world. But it’s what they do with that talent, the cricket board and people who are in charge of cricket in the Caribbean. Until that is done, we just got back these players.
The likes of India, Australia and South Africa, who have done all the homework are able to hone the skills of their players and make them play as a team. Back in the West Indies we are still dependent on the fact that we got good star players. But then why aren’t we winning? Because winning doesn’t come from star players, there needs to be some mechanism for us to win as a team.
I keep hearing that there are more people taking up basketball and athletics. But that is not true. Yes, there are more opportunities. Yes there are lot of less people playing cricket. But that’s just the way life evolved in the Caribbean. We still have young talented cricketers, but we are not improving their talent.
TNS: Have you thought about taking up the West Indies coaching?
BL: Being a coach is one thing but it’s the system. I don’t believe I want to work under the same system that I had problems with when I was a player. And if this system continues, and that’s not going to change, then it defeats the purpose. There is no need to be a coach if it’s the same way of doing things. I worked with the other countries in Zimbabwe and other organisations where it’s lot more comfortable and people are trying to evolve.
TNS: In your playing days you faced top quality quick bowlers like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Glen McGrath. But it seems that the quality of fast bowlers is going down. What is your take on it?
BL: I think the level of cricket is still good. There is (James) Anderson and (Dale) Steyn they are all top-class bowlers. You speak to anybody in 70s, they think they had very good fast bowlers, Dennis Lille and Thompson. And then in the 90s, there were best spinners. And I believe the cricket is still very, very competitive and still on high standards.
TNS: Many former cricketers have raised concerns about future of Tests because of popularity of Twenty20. How do you see the balance between Test, ODI and T20 cricket?
BL: The game — in the last seven-eight years with the advent of T20 cricket — has developed tremendously. It’s crazy in terms of fan following. Players love the game. I am one not against T20 but I enjoyed playing Test cricket. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
We see there are sponsors who are only interested in T20. So be it. There are not many sports which have three different versions like cricket has.