Specials – Brian Lara’s tryst with T20 cricket

It would not be an overstatement to say that had T20 cricket been introduced during the peak of Brian Lara’s career, the ‘Prince of Trinidad’ would have been one of the most sought-after players in the format. As it happened, he was not part of the West Indies’ first T20 international, against New Zealand at Auckland in 2005-06. A year later, he played his last international match, against England at the 2007 World Cup.

Later in 2007, Lara signed up for the ‘rebel’ Indian Cricket League (ICL), along with other recently retired international stars. He was named captain of the Mumbai Champs, with his teammates including his compatriot Mervyn Dillon, New Zealand’s Nathan Astle, South Africa’s Johan van der Wath, and England’s Vikram Solanki. However, he had a torrid time with the bat and his team finished at the bottom.

In his team’s first match against the Hyderabad Heroes, Lara was dismissed for a golden duck by the former Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood. He failed to lead from the front as the tournament went on and ended with a meagre 31 runs from five innings. Since the ICL was not sanctioned as official, these numbers did not make it to the T20 records. For his official T20 debut, Lara had to wait for another three years.  

In 2010-11, Lara was roped in by the Southern Rocks for the Stanbic Bank Twenty20, Zimbabwe’s domestic competition. Thus, on 13th November 2010, one of the game’s greatest batsmen made his T20 debut at the age of 41. The Rocks, led by Kenyan veteran Steve Tikolo, faced the Mashonaland Eagles (the eventual tournament winners) in their opening fixture at the Harare Sports Club and decided to field first.

Nick Compton, who would make his Test debut for England in 2012-13, gave the Eagles a steady start. But tight bowling from Chamu Chibhabha (3/27) and former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Harris (2/22), combined with two run-outs, including that of Compton (70), reduced the Eagles to 129/8 in the 18th over. Trevor Garwe, who had played an ODI against Kenya in 2009-10, joined Ryan Butterworth at this point.

The great Brian Lara played only three official T20 matches, all of them for the Southern Rocks at the Harare Sports Club in 2010-11 (source – flickr.com/Paul Hudson)

The pair changed the complexion of the game with a whirlwind stand of 45* from just 15 balls, bolstering the total to 174/8. Butterworth scored 23* in 14 balls, while Garwe slashed 25* in just eight balls. The Rocks were further pushed on to the back foot when the former South African all-rounder Andrew Hall (3/20) produced a wicket maiden in the first over of the chase, having Chibhabha caught behind by Regis Chakabva.

Lara came in at number three and began to show glimpses of his famed batting prowess, even though he had been out of competitive cricket for nearly three years. He shared in a second-wicket partnership of 53 in 37 balls with Sikandar Raza (33), before upping the ante during a third-wicket stand of 80 in 55 balls with Tatenda Taibu (30). He reached his fifty in 40 balls, and helped steer the Rocks to 133/2 after 16.1 overs.

It was at this stage that Lara’s stay came to an end, as he was caught by Forster Mutizwa off the dependable left-arm spinner Ray Price. His maiden T20 innings had produced 65 in 47 balls, with eight fours and a six. This was the opening that the Eagles were looking for, and Garwe (4/28) again played game-changer by snaring four wickets – those of Elton Chigumbura, Tikolo, Taibu and Tendai Chisoro – in the 18th over.  

The last eight wickets fell for a mere 13 runs in 19 balls, bringing the innings to an end at 146 in 19.2 overs. As many as five Rocks batsmen were dismissed for ducks. Not surprisingly, Garwe was named Man of the Match. Lara had marked his T20 debut with a fine knock, but it was not enough to take his team across the line. The next day, he scored 23 in 28 balls as the Rocks lost to the Mid West Rhinos by 11 runs.

Lara opened the batting in his third game, against the Matabeleland Tuskers. Though his contribution was only 11 in as many balls, he shared in an opening stand of 98 in eight overs with Raza, who went on to smash 93 from 48 balls. The Rocks amassed 221/6, enough for a 41-run win. This was to be Lara’s final T20 outing – he finished his short T20 career with 99 runs at an average of 33 and a strike rate of 115.11.  

Interestingly, prior to his stint with the Rocks, Lara had been in talks with Surrey to play T20 cricket for the county during the 2010 season. However, nothing came of it. He did play T20 in England that year though, representing the Marylebone Cricket Club in an exhibition game against the touring Pakistanis at Lord’s. He had a base price of $400,000 in the auction for the 2011 Indian Premier League, but went unsold.

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