Cricket / Fifth Test: Lara the natural leader for new age of his countrymen: Tony Cozier on the daunting talent of a hero with humility

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TO THOSE who know Brian Lara, who have followed his single-minded domination of opposing bowlers from the time he was a frail little boy in his native Trinidad, hardly able to lift a bat, yesterday's achievement would have come as no surprise.

He had that special quality with which only few are blessed. His 375 was obviously a great triumph and a glorious moment to be savoured, but surely no surprise.

Lara has set such standards of run-gathering that good judges were confident he would one day pass the record of another great West Indian left-hander whose genius was recognised from boyhood. Ask anyone in Port of Spain now and they will tell you there are many more to come.

Because he is from Trinidad, the expectations have been even greater. Unlike other West Indian territories, Trinidad and Tobago have had only one true superstar, Sir Learie Constantine, whose hard-hitting batting, fiery bowling, and fielding that earned him the nickname 'Electric Heels' made him a legendary figure in the 1930s. But his time was long enough ago that the modern generation is unaware of his impact on early West Indian cricket.

Of more recent vintage, Sonny Ramadhin, the magical little East Indian from south Trinidad, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, the graceful opening batsman and captain from the privileged white elite, and Larry Gomes, a reliable but dour left- handed batsman, have been the most outstanding Trinidadians in the Test side.

In that time, Barbadians have had Sobers - as well as Hunt and Nurse, Hall and Griffith, Greenidge and Haynes, Marshall and Garner. Guyana have produced Kanhai, Gibbs, Kallicharran and Lloyd; Jamaica Rowe and Holding; the Leeward Islands Richards, Roberts, Richardson and Ambrose.

From the days he was setting records in the regional youth tournaments and, as an 18-year-old, defying the speed of Garner and Marshall to score 92 in his second first- class match, Lara has carried the weight of the Trinidadian public on his shoulders.

He has used it as an incentive. 'I would say one of my main assets is I can play under a lot of pressure,' he observed. 'I play for Trinidad and Tobago and that's a lot of pressure. The people expect a lot from you and the crowd expect a lot from you. I am accustomed to it.'

And his status among his people acts as motivation. 'The only reason you become a star is because you perform well and the only way you can remain a star is if you keep up that consistent performance,' he said, even before he became a permanent member of the West Indies team. 'That will always be my goal, to keep up my performances, to try to get big scores and to establish myself.'

He was talking again yesterday of surpassing even this effort. No one would be surprised now if he does. This was only his 16th Test and he can confidently look forward to at least a hundred more.

Sobers, who has been an example and an inspiration, gathered his 365 in his 21st Test. It was his first Test hundred. In his very next match he scored a century in each innings and, by the time he called it a day, had 26 in all. But while Sobers bowled a lot, Lara can concentrate on batting alone.

Sobers was captain as well, as Lara inevitably will be. His appreciation of the game and his leadership qualities have long since been recognised. He was made captain of Trinidad and Tobago at 20. What is more, he wants to captain.

He is already the natural leader of the new-age West Indies batting that has emerged as such a force in this series. Lara, Adams and Chanderpaul, in their contrasting left-handed styles, are likely to comprise a middle-order for the next 10 years as reliable as any the West Indies have had.

In a few days, he is off to England for his season with Warwickshire, looking forward to the new experience to hone his considerable skills. There is little time for him to be feted and honoured at home but, like Sobers, Richards, and Roberts, it will not be long before his image appears on Trinidad and Tobago stamp issues, before streets are named after him. For the moment, however, his principal concern is making runs - plenty of them.

(Photograph omitted)