| Brian Lara relaxes in his city hotel suite on Sunday. Picture by Aranya Sen
Being the owner of the most coveted individual records (highest Test and first-class score) in cricket, Brian Charles Lara doesn’t require a visiting card. Actually, the MRF brand ambassador wouldn’t require one even if he wasn’t a double world record-holder. Lara, who spent two days in Calcutta for a promotional, spoke to The Telegraph for around 35 minutes (in his hotel suite) on Sunday afternoon. It was the West Indies captain’s first — and, possibly, only — one-to-one interaction over the two days. Owing to time constraints, however, the interview was largely confined to batting. The 34-year-old Lara, by the way, has himself totalled 21 hundreds in Tests (51.55 average) and 17 in ODIs (average of 43.10).
The following are excerpts
On the qualities needed by batsmen aspiring for the big league
Look, at the highest grade, most batsmen have natural ability… What’s most important is self-belief and being tough in the mind… You may have the skills, but won’t get very far if you don’t have that mental strength… In fact, if you study the careers of top batsmen, you will come across occasions when they were mentally challenged… If they are great, it’s because they won that battle.
On the extent to which a batsman can improve
Depends on his commitment… Cricket is a team game and, so, there’s a mix of individuals… I mean, you’re bound to have some average batsmen. At the same time, they too must play a part… Personally, I don’t think a situation should be encouraged whereby only the better ones do the bulk of the work… Clearly, there’s a role for everybody and the average batsmen must have the commitment and discipline to improve. Agreed, not everybody is going to be great, but you must aspire to be remembered as a batsman who made good contributions.
On what separates a great batsman from the rest
(Smiles) The desire to lift his game to another level and not remain content being at the top of the pile… The great ones wish to have a distance between them and the rest… Of course, this holds true for sportsmen in general, not just batsmen… A truly great sportsman will put in double the work even though he has been blessed with exceptional talent… Look at a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or a Michael Schumacher…
On his idols
The late Roy Fredericks and (Sir) Viv Richards… Actually, I’ve also learnt from other players… The Gordon Greenidges and Desmond Haynes’…
[Incidentally, apart from Jordon, Woods and Schumacher, Lara’s heroes outside cricket are footballers Zinedine Zidane and (fellow-West Indian) Dwight Yorke.]
On the dos and don’ts for batsmen
The fundamentals are the same for every batsman… Essentially, you must be disciplined and should look to laying a foundation… Obviously, you’ve got to cut down on the risks… (Adds laughing) Not too long ago, even I was considered a risk-taking batsman… The lesser the risk, the better your chances of flourishing.
On whether he has consciously cut down on risks
Greater knowledge about the art of batting and maturity have played a part… My own batting is driven by mental approach and visualisation… Very often, people have talked about my technique and… That my bat is going too high up and… However, I’ve never allowed that to be a big issue because, then, it would be a distraction. Whatever success I’ve achieved is largely due to my mental strength.
On whether rankings and labels matter
Early on in my career, yes, I did want to move up the ladder… When in the early 20s, one looks for security… That’s only natural… Later, though, you can’t be driven by individual rankings… You’ve got to carry the team along… Today, as the West Indies captain, I’m focussed on getting the team to move up… (After a pause) It’s nice to be No.1 or whatever, but that shouldn’t ever be the sole cause for satisfaction.
On being a matchwinner
As a youngster, I aspired to be on top of the pile and, once there, the pressure bit has to be accepted… That comes with being the most prized wicket… In the long run, however, no team should depend on one batsman or bowler. For quite some time, everything was expected from me only. Now, I’m happy to say the West Indies team is moving away from that… For a confirmation, you just have to look at this year’s Antigua Test… We scripted the greatest run chase ever but, in getting to that winning score (418 for seven), my contribution was no more than 60.
On where would he rate himself on a scale of 10
(Interrupting) I’ve never rated myself…
On whether captaincy can affect a batsman-captain
Yes, indeed… Equally, added responsibility could enhance an individual’s game… If the leadership qualities are there, those shouldn’t be stifled. Am I any different in my second innings as captain' Well, I’m certainly a better listener and experience has made a difference… Today, I’ve got a more holistic view of what leading the West Indies is all about… (Again, after a pause) Captains don’t go to a leadership-specific finishing school… They learn on the job and it’s never easy…
On the structure of cricket in the West Indies
There’s room for improvement… I don’t sit on meetings and so on but, yes, a case can be made out for calling upon the experience of former players… Am I worried that kids back home are being drawn to baseball and basketball' No.
On his message for the young ones
By all means have a role model, but don’t simply look to emulate him… Rather, set goals at every stage and try to surpass them… To speak of myself, be it in school or at the provincial level, I always wanted to be No.1… Each time I achieved one goal, I was inspired to go for the next.
Finally, on himself
(Smiles again) I’m more responsible… Given my position in West Indies cricket, I have to be so… While I avoid fanatical fans, I’m pretty affable and anybody could walk up and talk about interesting things… I admit being in the limelight is tough, yet I make the effort to have a few quiet moments… I quite like the US where I can simply get lost in a crowd… No cameras, no fans…