Imagine a butterfly. Imagine wings of silk. Imagine tensile steel working those silken wings — flap-slap, flap-slap, flap-slap. Now stop imagining, open your eyes and you have before you the reality of Brian Charles Lara, created like no other.
You should ponder the audacity of trying to report on this man; you should consider attempting no more than the rasping feel of him. You should be so fortunate as to have been in the vicinity of greatness.
As a packed hall was at the Oberoi Grand on Thursday evening, being lavished by the sense of the entity that goes by the lyrical name of Lara.
The man has gone higher than any other cricketer alive or dead — 375 to break Garry Sobers’s record of 365 in a Test innings; that topped later by an unbeaten 400 Test essay; an improbable first-class summit of 501, also unconquered.
Should it be any surprise, then, that when Lara looks around from the heights of such greatness, he countenances only greatness, for it’s a rarefied space he has come to occupy. It cannot be his fault he can only talk up excellence, which he does with generosity and effusion.
Virat Kohli — “He is such a joy to watch and it’s no surprise he walked away as the player of the tournament at the recent World Cup. But the man’s real legacy is how he prepares for the game; if ever my son wants to play sport, I will point him to Virat’s commitment and dedication.”
Sachin — “When I was 18 I read of a 16-year-old Indian hit on the nose by a Pakistan paceman. I can tell you if you see blood at 16, you’d sooner be talking about the reasons you prematurely retired. But not Sachin, different level.”
Kapil Dev — “Superhero, he told me he always knew he was going to win the 1983 World Cup because the West Indies would underestimate India. What a state, a speedster in a nation of spinners, an unorthodox bat among those tutored on English correctness.”
Gavaskar — And Lara plays a clip of the famed Reggae tribute to the Little Master. “I would say the first Indian superstar of the game, he did not want merely to play, he wanted to play to beat, and he showed how to do it.”
Pataudi — “Well I have only heard of his legend, and all the many things he was. I went around asking and finally I went to Clive Lloyd, and he told me, 'Listen Brian, I cannot imagine what Pataudi could have done on the cricket field had he not had that accident (in which he lost an eye and the muscle in one thigh).' You’ve heard of the four-pronged West Indian pace attack, but am I right to say Pataudi gave India a four-pronged spin attack?” Robust applause ringing round the hall.
But what of Lara on Lara? A bit of himself? His tales can trigger laughter, his tales can make you cry. He was once asked what is the one thing he would have liked to have happened in his career but didn’t. Brian went to Bunty, his father, the man who, he insists, made him. “I had been picked for the West Indies team but I wasn’t in the playing side. And on the second morning of the game, there was a tap on my door and I saw Clive Lloyd there with some others, and I knew something was wrong. My father never could see me playing a Test and that’s something that will remain a lifelong regret.”
The laugh, we’ve retained for the last. It’s an episode from Australia delectably told. It so happens that the legendary but, on Lara’s authority, tight-fisted Desmond Haynes invites him to dinner. Lara’s surprised but no less pleased. He’s game. It transpires that it’s actually an Australian family that’s paying. No surprise there, knowing Haynes. Lara, recently having picked up a fondness in England, wants to eat crispy duck. What, says Haynes disapprovingly, from one end of the table, nobody’s eating duck on the table, we are playing a game tomorrow. Lara persists, has his duck over Haynes’s reservations. The next morning, Haynes gets out for 22, Lara is walking in. As they cross, Haynes mutters something terse about “best of luck with your duck”. Lara scores 277, one of the marquee innings of a career act as tough to mimic as a butterfly with silken wings worked by tensile steel.