The following is part four in a series commemorating the anniversary of former West Indies captain Brian Lara’s world record test knock of 400 not out.
EARL MC DONALD BEST
Franklyn “Uncle Frank” Hernandez is a cool, mild-mannered, even-tempered, fair-minded, usually non-violent sexagenarian who will turn 70 next March; he rarely loses it. But he simply can’t stand injustice. And he doesn’t have much patience with a West Indian who doesn’t appreciate Brian Lara.
He has fired the question at me, exchanging his rifle for a cannon on the last six words.
“How the hell you could pick a World XI, a Best Ever side, and put Bradman at three, Tendulkar at four…and leave out Brian Charles Lara?”
“Well,” I say, under pressure, not really enjoying having the bullseye in the centre of my forehead, “he misbehave plenty, yuh know...”
Like Bally’s “Maxi Dub” driver, all mih family Uncle Frank expose to me wey dey born. Without a word. He chose to say nothing, letting his expressive face and body say what an idiot - or a maniac - I was; neither the idiot nor the maniac could find something sensible to say.
“Let me tell you something,” he goes on, “the problem is not misbehaviour, is jealousy. I read somewhere where (Geoffrey) Boycott say people in the West Indies envy Lara. I think he didn’t want to say ‘hate.’ And is true. Just the other day, Tony Cozier write about the “West Indian batting greats” who made a century in each innings of a Test.”
He produces the April 13, 2014, article with the paragraph highlighted. “Headley and Walcott (each twice),” it reads, “Weekes, Sobers, Kanhai, Rowe, Greenidge.
“Yuh think Cozier don’t know Lara do that against Muralitharan in 2001? Yuh think?
“Joel Garner, who on the board now, didn’t try to disguise his joy when Lara decided to stop playing.”
He leans over and picks up the 2007 Scovell biography, Brian Lara: Cricket’s Troubled Genius. He pulls a printout out of it.
“‘It is his decision to retire and I can’t say that it’s wrong,’” he reads.
“‘A captain can only be judged by his success record and that’s not good in his case. Now we have to take drastic steps to carry West Indies cricket forward.’ That is Garner talking, gloating, glad to be rid of Lara. I wonder if he glad now?”
“And hear Holding: ‘Lara stayed on longer than he should have,’ he reads some more, “so is ‘time to thank him and look forward.’”
He expects me to comment; I decline.
“He also say long after that – he has abandoned the text – that (Vivian) Richards woulda make more runs than Lara if he used to bat for heself. Lara bat fuh heself? Which Lara he talking about? Brian Charles Lara carry almost all the West Indies sides he play for on he shoulders. But what he doing now? The best batsman in the world and he can’t get a lil end on the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board. He cyar even get a school side to coach!”
“And what make you think he want a coaching wuk?”
Giving me a sharp, disapproving cut-eye, - my dialect usage, my effrontery or both? - he picks up the printout again.
“At any point in time,” he reads aloud, “if they need me to make a contribution [in the future] outside the playing field, I am willing to help. I played with some great players and whenever it’s time to pay back, I will be there.
“That is Lara talking in 2007. You think that change?”
He pushes the Genius across the table at me.
“It have things in there,” he announces, “about how they treat Lara that would make you shame to be a West Indian. But you don’t need to read that; just ask yourself how Lara last innings for West Indies ended. The scorebook tells you “Run out (Pietersen), 18” but people say “Run out (Samuels), 18” is closer to the truth.
“And let me tell you something else: last year, when Tendulkar retired, I read a India story. It was saying that in Tests Bradman average nearly 40 runs more than the man nearest to him but it still say that Tendulkar was “Statistically the greatest batsman of all time.
“One last thing: it now have a new Wisden India Almanack with a whole section name “His Last Bow” dedicated to Tendulkar. And check the Internet for a ESPN cricinfo book called Sachin Tendulkar: The Man Cricket Loved Back. It have 40 different articles praising Tendulkar, five of them by Indian cricketers. You ever hear Holding praise Lara? Richards? (Colin) Croft? Tony Cozier?
“That and God face. You know how much money Lara make for the West Indies Board? Millions, I sure. All by heself! But you ever see them put out any book thanking him, praising him? No. Not them setta ungrateful…”
He stops short, leaves the sentence hanging.
“But you know what? The board and the other players could say what they want or not say what they know, they can’t change the facts. The truth is out there. Love him or hate him, you know and I know that the Prince of Port-of-Spain is the king of them all.”