LARA… Best Ever??

LaraThere is no doubt Brian Lara, Test cricket’s leading run-scorer, is among the greats.

But how does he rate alongside recognised legends like Donald Bradman, Garfield Sobers, even Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar from the modern era?

The problem is that number of runs scored is just one of the ways of ranking the best batsmen ever.

Lara struggled to live up to the hype after his purple patch of 1994, when he hit a then Test record 375, closely followed by a first-class record 501 not out for Warwickshire.

Deposed as captain in favor of Jimmy Adams, he missed an entire home season, while rumors swirled about his mental well-being.

When he made his Test debut he was just one part of a hugely successful West Indies team, a junior to the likes of Viv Richards and Desmond Haynes.

But as the greats retired and the results dipped, the pressure grew on Lara to carry the load.

As captain, he appeared better at leading by action rather than word, and there were times when he carried the side with his individual achievements.

Only in the last year or so has a new, more mellow, Lara been on display, happy to play the role of senior pro without expecting the rest of the team to copy his accomplishments.

Lara set the new record mark in his 121st Test.

Border played 156 Tests, a feat only surpassed by his successor as Aussie captain Steve Waugh, who sits just behind him in the list of run-scorers.

Bradman, generally recognised as the best ever, stands 29th, as he made 6,996 runs in 52 Tests.

Bradman’s batting average of 99.94 makes him by far the most consistent batsman ever and many below him in that chart are heroes of the middle of the last century.

Uncovered pitches made batting more of an adventure back then, although teams tended only to use two out-and-out pace bowlers.

But whether either of those batsmen would be able to sustain an average of above 60 given today’s heavier schedules and pressures of the game, is just another topic for debate.

Even in rating the best of the current crop it is tough to split Lara and Tendulkar, who possess a slightly better average but a lower aggregate. Though, in a recent comment, Australian swash buckling batsman Ricky Ponting – who’s himself scored a whopping 9368 runs in test cricket at an average of 59.60 – admitted that he rated Tendulkar as a better batsman than Lara. It would be fair to say that when the going gets tough, it is Lara who has performed better in high pressure situations.

Lara bettered Sobers’ unbeaten 365 nine years ago, saw his record broken by Australia’s Matthew Hayden, and set a new mark against England in April 2004.

Lara has five double-hundreds, a 375, a 400 and a 501. Anyone who can score that prolifically has to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time, not just of his era.

It may be the easy way out, but Lara is certainly one of the best ever.

Aman Kapoor