Katie Falkingham discovers that West Indies batting icon Brian Lara is a huge fan of England’s Joe Root
Unsurprisingly, Joe Root isn’t exactly short of people who list him as one of their favourite batsmen to watch. But that sort of high praise must be all the sweeter when it comes from one of your childhood heroes.
Root has made no secret of the fact that West Indies great Brian Lara – he of almost 12,000 Test runs, 34 Test centuries, an average of 52.88 and the only man to compile a knock of 400 at the very highest level – inspired him to play cricket growing up.
“I have always liked batsmen that have a bit more flair about them and could do things that nobody else could do,” said Root in an interview in 2016. “Brian Lara was one of them.
“He could do things on the pitch that nobody else could do. He was completely different to anyone else and that is what made him so special to watch.
“I still look back at footage of guys like Brian Lara and I am just in awe of what they did.”
And it would appear the admiration is mutual.
When Lara talks, in his laid-back Caribbean way, you listen. And when he talks about batting – a subject few in history are more qualified to comment upon – you listen intently.
Root’s record on the big stage speaks for itself, but it’s the England skipper’s understated panache – so unlike your run-of-the-mill English batsman – that has caught the 48-year-old’s eye.
“Joe Root is one of my favourite batsmen,” said Lara. “His ability in all forms of the game is very special.
“I have played against a lot of English batsmen, and they have that ability to be very correct and do things as they are in the coaching manual.
“Joe has a bit of that, but he also has a lot of flair as well. An English batsman who has that kind of flair, first of all, it’s shocking, but it’s great to watch.
“He is up there as one of the top batsmen in the world.”
It’s notable that Lara has pinpointed Root’s flair as one of his defining characteristics, with the Yorkshireman often lauded for his patience, calmness and even stubbornness at the crease.
His maturity from early in his career led Geoffrey Boycott to once say that Root reminded him of himself – but, with the greatest of respect to Boycott, the 26-year-old has always been a far less limited player.
With a precision and crispness of stroke more than making up for any lack of raw natural power, he is as vital to England’s one-day side as he is to the Test line-up.
And with Root in the team, Lara makes England favourites for the Champions Trophy currently being contested on home soil.
“I think in these conditions, England will be my firm favourites. After losing out to the West Indies in the T20 World Cup, you look at the team now and they have some exciting players,” said Lara, below with that T20 trophy.
“England, in the past, would have maybe an Ian Botham or an Andrew Flintoff, but now you can look at the entire team and it’s very one-day cricket oriented.
“Obviously there is Joe Root and Ben Stokes has proven himself to be a world-class all-rounder.
“But they just have a very good team. Everybody is capable of performing very well, and that is key because you can’t just rely on one or two players to win you a cricket match.
“It will be tough to beat them in these conditions, but all the teams are playing such good cricket right now.
“Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan are all playing well, so I expect it to be very, very competitive, but my two pence is on England.”
While England headed into the Champions Trophy as one of the favourites, West Indies’ fall to ninth in the ODI rankings meant they missed out on the competition.
The ongoing pay dispute between the likes of superstars Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Andre Russell and the West Indies Cricket Board have sent the former one-day powerhouse into a seemingly terminal decline.
It’s all a far cry from the Lara-led sides that won the Champions Trophy in 2004 and reached the final two years later.
And the global icon admits it saddens him to see just how far his country have fallen.
“I’m very disappointed that the West Indies won’t be here this year,” added Lara. “I grew up in an era when we were dominant, we were invincible, so to now have a world tournament without the West Indies, for me it’s very sad.
“The ICC Champions Trophy was always one of the high points of my career, especially playing in the final at the Oval in 2004.
“During my reign as captain, or even just as a West Indies cricketer, we didn’t have many trophies to celebrate, but I clearly remember what happened at the Oval on a dim September evening.
“It’s one of the most unbelievable experiences playing at this tournament. We came off the back of some really bad Test cricket, so to still be able to boast about it 13 years later is great.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, June 2 2017
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