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Brian Lara's retirement and cricket's legacy
published: Sunday | April 29, 2007

Robert Buddan, Contributor

The retirement of Brian Lara means that for the first time since the West Indies achieved Test status in 1928, the team will not have one of the truly great players in the world among its members. In this sense, Lara's retirement marks the end of a West Indian era, not just the Lara era.

From 1929 to 1954, the West Indies had George Headley. Then there were Everton Weekes, Garfield Sobers, Vivian Richards, Malcolm Marshall and then Lara in overlapping or back-to-back succession. These men were all historical greats, each being dominant West Indian and world players in the decades of the 1930s to the 1990s and the first decade of this century. In each of these last eight decades of West Indies cricket, someone has emerged as a grandmaster of his craft, up until now. Social historians, not just cricket analysts, still need to explain why this was so and why it is not so now.

Unbroken succession of historical greats

The Lara era has come on the tail of a West Indian epoch. The West Indian way was not just the freestyle of raw and entertaining skills. It was about a time when West Indian societies were natural crucibles for producing the kinds of people best able to combine art and entertainment in bat and ball. No other Test-playing nation, I suggest, has produced such an unbroken succession of historical greats like the West Indies has.

The West Indies will now lack that enigma and aura that a superstar brings to its cricket. That specially gifted player is a crowd puller and a talking point of every game he plays. He is an enigma because he always makes you wonder what special quality makes him so great and makes greatness possible. He brings an aura to the side because of his presence and ability to single-handedly take command and change a game. He brings respect for himself and his team, and gives his team the edge that always makes it possible for it to win as long as he is playing. These are what West Indies cricket will lack for the time being until the next prodigy comes along.

Put WI on the map

These players made the West Indies come to the notice of others. They made the West Indies a major region of cricket. They won idols the world over. They got the West Indies invited to special tournaments. They were on the top ten lists of batsmen or bowlers during their day. They raised passions at home and abroad. Without them, the West Indies becomes just another cricket playing area, like India without Tendulkar, New Zealand without heroes or glory, or like England whose heroes and glory are long past.

We have never known a West Indian team without a hero, someone whom other countries wished was playing for them and who could make any side in the world. Someone who would make the all-time best West Indies side and the all-time best world side.

We are not a region that hangs together well if there is no hero in the crowd on which to hang our hopes. Forbes Burnham of Guyana once said we if we don't hang together we will hang separately. This is true for our cricket as well. If we don't, we will lose sponsors, lose our ability to negotiate good TV rights, lose our reputation as a major Test-playing region, lose out on invitations to special tournaments, and lose our ability to fill our new stadiums across the region. Brian Lara can be a cultural ambassador for cricket, and we the people can promote our culture through cricket.

Crowd-pulling personality

Without a dominant crowd-pulling personality, West Indies cricket will need new attractions to interest people around the world in our region, and new ways for the region to benefit from the global exposure that West Indies cricket brings. We must build on the legacy of World Cup 2007 and the legacy passed on by some of the greatest cricketers in cricket history.

We have that opportunity. The West Indies will play in England from May to July; in Bangladesh in July; in South Africa at the 20/20 World Cup in September; in Zimbabwe from November to December, and in South Africa from December to January 2008. The cricket show will go on and we must find a way to put on a good West Indian show every time.

I believe that wherever the West Indies team goes a Caribbean cultural show must go with it. Our musicians, dancers, and theatrical groups should use such occasions to market our creative industries in the towns and cities in which the cricketers play. They must book theatres and halls to put on Caribbean cultural entertainment for Caribbean and non-Caribbean people around the world.

Creating markets

These are also occasions for people in our craft and fashion industries and for those in mainstream industries to put on exhibitions that will create markets and attract partners in business and investments. Caribbean writers and publishers must also put their work on display. Those in the film and video industries should include themselves. And of course, this presents an opportunity for us to promote sports tourism.

Jamaica already has a National Cultural Policy to build Jamaica into a cultural superstate. This year, the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery released its policy for a CARICOM cultural industry. West Indies cricket provides an important vehicle for staging these policies around the world. The Cricket World Cup has provided us with the organising infrastructure for this.

Permanent body

For instance, Jamaica's Local Organising Committee should establish itself as a permanent body under Robert Bryan to put on smaller and probably segmented versions of shows similar to the highly regarded World Cup opening ceremony in cities from London to New Delhi and Pretoria. Those shows could easily pay their own way. More traditional performers like NDTC and Pantomime, could fill theatres. We must bring the Caribbean to those who did not have a chance to attend the opening ceremony or come to watch cricket and enjoy our culture.

JAMPRO (Trade and Invest) should take its World Cup Legacy programme and its Brand Jamaica initiatives overseas in the same way. By combining business and investment exhibitions with the times and places where these cultural performances are taking place, our culture and our business could reinforce Jamaica and the Caribbean's attractiveness to the benefit of all.

We should act while the image of the Caribbean is still fresh in the minds of those who watched the World Cup. We should take advantage of the West Indian diaspora market that thirsts for its home culture. We should keep the legacy and branding programmes alive through West Indies cricket tours. We must fill the void created by Brian Lara's retirement. Besides, our cultural presence with the team on tour might inspire their performances and remind them of how important their efforts are to the people and industries of the region. And, it would be an important way to get back the investments we have made in West Indies cricket over the past 80 years. Here is a way to make sure that our international events have a direct benefit to those in our local communities.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, Mona, UWI. E-mail:

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