For someone who had some of the best moments of his career against England, it was befitting that he played his final match against the same team. And what could be better than playing it as the captain of your team, in a World Cup on home soil. Brian Charles Lara’s 17-year international career ended on this day in 2007, with a loss to England. The Prince of Trinidad weaved his magic with the willow over the years and gave West Indies some respectability in the latter stages of his career when the going was tough.
“I've had a tremendous time playing for West Indies ... my dream was to see West Indies cricket stay on top and not doing that has been the most disappointing thing,” Lara said after his final game for West Indies.
"Did I entertain?" – was what Lara asked the crowd before he stepped down from the podium which was of course met with a thunderous reception from the full house at the Kensington Oval.
While Lara was more suited in the middle-order in Tests, his ODI career in the same position did not start particularly well. In fact in his first 16 innings he played as a middle-order batsman he managed just a couple of fifties, but when he was sent to open the innings, he scored six fifties in his first 10 innings. Yet a big score eluded him. It arrived soon after when he scored 128 against Pakistan in Durban in 1993 and followed that up with two more in the next four innings. He never looked back from there, but was once again restored in the middle-order often featuring at the crucial numbers 3 and 4, where he would go on to play for most of his career.
As flamboyant as Lara was, more often than not, he could not get going right from the first delivery. He needed time to settle in, which is why, playing him at the top three made perfect sense as he would have more time to get his eye in. Once in, he was difficult to stop. Lara averaged a combined 52.07 when he batted in the top three, but when he batted lower than that, he scored at an average of just 33.55. Batting in the top three for longer periods of time could have perhaps seen Lara rack up more runs and could have potentially won more matches for West Indies.
With nothing to play for both England and the hosts West Indies in his final game, the teams were playing for pride. But for West Indies there was some extra motivation and that was to give their hero a deserving send-off.
In the final match of the Super Eights, Michael Vaughan won the toss and put West Indies in. Chris Gayle (79) and Devon Smith (61) got West Indies off to a perfect start. While Gayle went for the big hits, Smith held up his end and played second fiddle to the Jamaican. They put on 131 inside 24 overs for the first wicket before Andrew Flintoff broke the partnership after a good catch from Stuart Broad at deep third man.
While there were cheers for Gayle’s attacking innings, the biggest cheer of the day was when Lara walked in at three. The moment the packed crowd had been waiting for had finally arrived.
Lara hit three fours in that match, giving the audience a final glimpse of what they were going to miss. The first one was a beautifully-timed shot square on the off-side, the second one a deft leg glance off James Anderson, and in the same over Smith was dismissed, Lara guided the ball from Flintoff beyond the ‘keeper and Andrew Strauss at first slip to pick up his third.
Broad bowled the next over and it was new man Marlon Samuels on strike. The England quick built some pressure not giving away a single run from the first four deliveries. Samuels, who does not like to be bogged down was itching to get off the mark. Off the next delivery, he pushed the ball to mid-on and called for a run, to which Lara responded immediately. But then Samuels stopped in his tracks, changed his mind and left Lara stranded. The West Indies great was run-out for a 17-ball 18 – not the sort of ending him or his team-mates or the crowd would have wanted, but that was something they had to accept.
Not all legends get a befitting farewell and Lara’s was on similar lines. However, the 18 he scored in his final innings does not overshadow the thousands of runs, plenty of centuries and match-winning knocks he played for his team over the course of 17 years.
Broad, who replaced Jon Lewis in the World Cup squad later recalled, “You could sense the occasion, with Lara playing his last match. We gave him a guard of honour. I think a lot of us were disappointed he couldn't get to finish on a better note. West Indies didn't qualify for the next stage, and then being run out. I remember he was quite emotional when he spoke at the end of the match.”
And it was Broad, who won the match for England with a hit over deep cover to give Lara some chasing to do – his final act as a West Indies cricketer.
While England chased down 301 thanks to a Kevin Pietersen century and 79 from Vaughan to end the tournament on a winning note, however, it eventually brought about the end of an era in West Indies cricket as the willow of a sheer genius would be silenced forever.