SOUTHHAMPTON, Bermuda – They call him the Michael Jordan of cricket, all 5-feet-8 inches of him. They are way off.
Brian Lara may be the athletic equivalent of Jordan, and by every account on this spit of island he is the basketball legend’s equal, but the native of Trinidad and Tobago suffers fools much better than No. 23 ever did.
We should know. We were the fool.
In a quintessential insular American move your correspondent found himself seated next to the Honorable Brian Lara at breakfast a few mornings ago.
Familiar conversation: “You look familiar,” he says. “No I don’t play golf,” he says. “You’re on the Golf Channel,” he finally announces. After a few moments of polite conversation we both went back to our eggs and rice with fish.
Later that afternoon we spotted the Honorable Brian Lara walking off the 18th hole at Port Royal Golf Club, site of this week’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf. More polite conversation and he was on his way.
“You know Lara?” one cart barn attendant asked in dismay.
“I don’t know who Lara is, but I had breakfast with that guy,” we shrugged.
It took a good 15 minutes for the attendant, joined by two taxi drivers, an assistant pro and an American caddie, to explain that the Honorable Brian Lara was an international cricket legend. That he holds the record for the highest individual score in test innings, 400 not out against England in 2004. That he etched that record into the books a decade after first doing it as a young man.
“On CNN they tried to describe it as hitting 60 (homeruns),” he laughs before pointing out that he set the record over a three-day test match or roughly 15 hours of at bats.
The irritated locals further explained that the Honorable Brian Lara was in Bermuda by special invitation from the premier and he would be holding a cricket clinic that was much more important than all silly season shenanigans at Port Royal.
At Sunday’s welcoming reception Ernie Els, an avid cricket fan, looked downright flummoxed talking to Lara, a close friend who attended the South African’s wedding years ago, and Premier Ewart Brown introduced him to an adoring crowd as, “the greatest cricket player ever.”
During Monday’s pro-am an impromptu cricket match broke out on the 16th hole, with Els batting, the premier bowling (pitching) and the Honorable Brian Lara in backstop. It was huge hit.
Who needs Phil Mickelson, who needs Louis Oosthuizen when you’ve got the Honorable Brian Lara?
Not that Lara had much interest or use in the pomp and circumstance. He’s a golfer now having been converted in 1994 after losing a four-day test match in two days on an island with only golf as an outlet.
“There was only one plane off the island each day so we had to stay two days and all there was to do was play golf,” Lara said.
The legendary left-handed batsman took up the game as a southpaw at first but didn’t want to hurt his batting swing (“There’s no wrist break in cricket,” he said.), so he switched to right-handed and now plays to a 5 handicap.
“I was hopeless trying to bat right-handed but I could (play golf) right-handed,” Lara said. “I believe cricket is a harder game. If at age six you started both sports you’d excel at golf more.”
At Sunday’s reception we tried to do some damage control, reintroducing ourselves and asking if we could get a picture with His Honorableness, which Lara gladly posed for before asking if we needed anything from the bar.
After his pro-am Els gushed over the chance to play with the Honorable One saying, “He’s a legend in the game of cricket. Top three players of all time.”
No, he’s not the Michael Jordan of cricket. He’s much better. And this fool should know.