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Fans still in awe of Prince Lara
The bicentennial match to commemorate 200 years of cricket at Lord’s will be played on Saturday. Guardian’s sports editor Valentino Singh is at Lord’s to follow the trail of the Prince of Port-of-Spain, Brian Lara, whose presence in the match has created quite a feeling of expectations around the world. Lara will represent the MCC, which will be led by Sachin Tendulkar, against Shane Warne’s Rest of the World.
He may have retired seven years ago but a walk through Lord’s with the Prince of Port-of-Spain will confirm that Brian Lara remains the most approachable and perhaps the most sought after cricketer in the world, never mind the ex factor.
There was Sachin Tendulkar, more runs, more hundreds and certainly more mores than Lara in several areas of the game. There was Shane Warne and Muttiah Murilitharan, the two leading wicket takers in Test cricket. And there were others, like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, all here for tomorrow’s sold out bicentennial affair which pays tribute to 200 years of cricket at Lord’s.
But almost all of the autograph signings were reserved for the Prince. An autograph, a smile, a touch, a howdy, all distributed with the elegance and grace of a superbly timed cover drive, elicited enough goodwill to emphasise the importance of seeing their hero out in the middle at Lord’s one last time.
“Make a hundred, Brian,” “Get a few, Mate,” “Don’t Get out,” and “Hope the weather holds out” were just some of the wishes, as they pulled out their phones and crowded around the man whose presence on the cricketing stage left the world in awe for 17 years.
Yesterday was not an official day, but Lara and several of the other players were out in the nets, almost as if they were preparing for a Test match.
“It’s serious business out there on Saturday,” said John Stephenson, the former Essex player who is now the MCC’s playing and touring programmes manager.
“And Brian and the others know that. With their reputations they won’t want to disappoint the fans, who have already bought out all the tickets.” There were warm embraces and an air of expectation as the players met renewed acquaintances. But once the greetings were over they got down to a net session. Tendulkar, who will lead the MCC team, and Warne, captain of the Rest of the World, both showed an intensity that is normally reserved for Test cricket.
Tendulkar batted for an hour while Warne bowled for nearly 45 minutes. Lara enjoyed just over 30 minutes before issuing an invitation to tour the Lord’s facility which was graciously accepted.
Two other T&T colleagues, Earl Clifford and Fazil Jahoor, were also fortunate. Not unexpectedly, there were several interruptions along the way as the Prince obliged his adoring fans.
Once this was completed, Lara returned to the nets, only to see Muralitharan taking part in the session.
“I think I should get in a few against Muri before we leave. He is the one likely to give me the most trouble,” Lara said, only to realise that he had loaned his gear to Yuvraj Singh, who was batting.
But he borrowed gear from Tendulkar’s son and faced Muralitharan for about ten minutes.
“He is the spinner who gave me the most trouble when I was playing but he never knew that then,” Lara said.
Yesterday all 26 players attended an anti-corruption meeting hosted by the MCC, an emphatic signal of the serious nature the game.
Today, they will all return to Lord’s for an official net session.